OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reported that most of its missionaries serving in New Zealand have been accounted for and are safe following a severe tropical cyclone that struck the island.
Mission Presidents for the New Zealand Wellington Mission and the Auckland Mission have reported that all missionaries have been accounted for.
Four missionaries were reportedly evacuated from Hawke’s Bay, an area of the Wellington mission, as part of a wider community evacuation. Those missionaries sheltered in the home of a local LDS family and are expected to be able to return to their area in the next few days.
Mission President Jeffery Nikoia who oversees the New Zealand Hamilton Mission reported that efforts continue to make contact with Elder Williams and Elder Park, two missionaries who have been missing since the cyclone hit.
ABC4 reached out to the Church and confirmed efforts were ongoing but communication had still not been made with either missionary.
According to local New Zealand police, efforts are being prioritized in reaching those who have been isolated and are uncontactable. These searches are said to be carried out “carefully and methodically.” Police say communications are beginning to be restored in the district, which will allow those to call for help immediately.
Local authorities say 3,544 have been registered as missing since the cyclone hit, though many of the reports are likely to be duplicate reports. 450 people have reportedly marked themselves as safe with police. As of now, five people have been confirmed dead following the storm.
Many rivers remain flooded and water levels remain dangerously high, though police say the worst of the weather has passed. According to Church officials, several meetinghouses of the LDS Church have suffered flooding and other damage, especially in the north end of the country and in Hawke’s Bay.
LDS members and missionaries are reportedly working with neighbors, community and government groups to help clean up neighborhoods impacted by the Category 3 storm. The accounted-for missionaries in turn are being helped by local LDS leaders.
“We have a senior couple serving in the area and they are making regular visits to make sure missionaries have food and other supplies,” said President David Thomson, who oversees the Wellington Mission. “We are also receiving excellent support from local Latter-day Saint leaders.”
Church leadership said as reports continue to provide a fuller assessment of the cyclone’s impact, it will determine how to best support recovery efforts in the coming days and weeks.