Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Red Cross relief fund almost gone

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - The American Red Cross has spent $16,000 in Ohio in the past week to set up shelter and provide food and drinking water to flood victims.

While the amount pales when compared to what the organization has spent in other disasters, it has helped push the Red Cross' national relief fund to its lowest level in more than a decade.

"Any disaster of any scale is going to wipe that out unless we are successful in soliciting and communities are responsive," Michael Farley, vice president of field development for the Red Cross, said Monday.

The fund has been nearly exhausted by the flooding in Ohio and other states following an expensive typhoon in Guam and numerous smaller storms that did not generate significant donations.

It has fallen to its lowest balance since 1992, when assistance to victims of Hurricane Andrew helped deplete the fund entirely, Farley said. The Red Cross, which tallies donations each month, said the fund had $1.5 million as of June 30.

Ray Steen, Red Cross spokesman in Washington, D.C., said "a normal, healthy balance" is $56 million. In the past year, the Red Cross spent $85 million and only received $26 million in contributions, he said.

The typhoon that swept through Guam in December cost the Red Cross $23 million. And last month, the Red Cross helped tornado victims in Texas and Minnesota and flood victims in Mississippi, Louisiana, Minnesota, Florida and North Carolina.

The Red Cross spent considerably less on flooding last week in Ohio ($16,000), Indiana ($47,000) and West Virginia ($10,000), but the storms still contributed to the strain on the fund, Steen said.

"It's these continuing hits of disaster that don't necessarily make the headlines ... that are quickly depleting the disaster relief fund," he said. "The contributions are down mainly because we're not getting the attention for these relief operations."

The slumping economy also has hurt donations, the Red Cross said.

Steen said that if the disaster fund is totally depleted, the Red Cross would have to tap into other funds, such as money used to administer blood donations.

"We will continue to meet immediate disaster needs," Steen said. "But something is going to have to be sacrificed."

Steen said the Red Cross is preparing to help any victims of Tropical Storm Claudette, which was bearing down on Texas on Monday. If the storm causes major damage, it could empty the fund, he said.

Last month, the Red Cross launched a national fund-raising campaign to replenish the disaster relief fund. The goal is to raise $30 million by the end of August.

Contributors can earmark their donations for disaster relief or even a specific disaster. Disaster aid accounts for about 25 percent of the Red Cross' total budget. Red Cross assistance can include shelters, food and vouchers for medicine, clothing and other items.

Flooding last week in western Ohio destroyed 22 homes and damaged an additional 324 homes in six counties, according to preliminary assessments by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. Floodwaters forced about 100 families in Logan County to flee their homes.

"There are some who still can't get back to their places," said Helen Norris, director of the Logan County Emergency Management Agency.

"We would be lost (without the Red Cross)," Norris said. "So many people would be without help."


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