Monday, March 10, 1997
Victims: Where was Red Cross?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

MANCHESTER, Ohio - As more than 80 people prepared to bed down Sunday in a shelter run by the Salvation Army in this Ohio River town, many wondered: Where was the American Red Cross?

Residents, their emotions ragged after a week of coping with floodwaters, said they felt betrayed when the Red Cross did not set up a shelter in the high school gym as it had in previous disasters.

''They blew it,'' Vice Mayor Rick Foster said.

The Red Cross also failed to deliver promised cleanup kits to Adams County on Saturday.

Red Cross Disaster Director Gary Miller said he tried to tell officials at the Adams County emergency operations center that the kits hadn't arrived.

However, Mr. Miller said, he could not reach them by phone and ''we forgot to call them back.''

That was unbelievable, said Fred Starcher, the Adams County emergency management official to whom Mr. Miller promised the goods. ''He told me they were en route.''

Despite the Red Cross' absence, Mr. Starcher said relief agencies would open a one-stop service center by Tuesday morning at the Adams County Fairgrounds in West Union.

Mr. Starcher said the Small Business Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Farm Service Agency and others will be there, probably from 8 a.m. daily.

Mr. Miller said the Red Cross sent a disaster team to Adams County on March 1, but Mr. Foster said it was clear the next day that Manchester would be flooded and ''we had nothing'' to care for displaced people.

The Red Cross had set up a shelter at West Union High School - about 10 miles north - for flood victims, and Mr. Miller said his agency offered to bus Manchester residents to the Brown County shelter in nearby Ripley.

That didn't last, said Mr. Starcher at the Adams County emergency operations center, because a Red Cross official from Cincinnati quickly pulled its team out of Adams County.

''We argued with her for an hour,'' Mr. Starcher said, and when she wouldn't relent, ''we asked her to leave'' the emergency operations center.

The Red Cross shelter in West Union had opened at 11 a.m. March 1 and closed at 3:30 p.m. March 2, according to a firefighter at the West Union Fire Department. The shelter closed seven hours after the last family left, and a note was left with a telephone number to call for assistance, Mr. Miller said.

''We would have stayed there for as long as there was a need for sheltering,'' he said. ''We can't keep a building open and tie up personnel. We didn't have anyone in that shelter and decided to close it.''

Mr. Miller said no one from Manchester asked to be sheltered. ''We assumed everyone was being taken care of.''

In a sense, Mr. Miller was right.

Martha Bennett, who heads the Salvation Army's volunteer service unit in Adams County, called Manchester Mayor Randy Yates on March 2 and asked what she should do.

Because the Red Cross wasn't there, the mayor recalled Sunday, he asked her to set up a shelter in the high school gym.

''I thought we would be of help in an auxiliary backup way,'' Mrs. Bennett said, ''and we ended up setting up the shelter.''

When Mrs. Bennett asked him what equipment he could provide, there was more bad news. Mr. Yates told her, ''I've got eight cots and four brand-new blankets that I've had left over from the flood last year.''

With help from others in the community and the Salvation Army, Mrs. Bennett and other volunteers quickly began to house, clothe, feed and entertain as many as 100 people each night.

Mr. Yates is so furious that he is telling callers to give to the Salvation Army, not the Red Cross. ''They never showed. They never came down here. I've never seen the Red Cross here.''

Mr. Miller said that within the last couple of days, his organization received a request to come in and take over the shelter, but declined.

''When I was told it was being run by the Salvation Army, I informed the people we couldn't come into another agency's facility,'' Mr. Miller said.

''I think our volunteers who reacted to the disaster and made recommendations to my staff didn't do anything wrong. We can't please everyone all the time. Part of disaster management is making decisions that are not popular.''