Disasters depleting Red Cross funds

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There were 427,746 people – almost the population of El Paso County – housed in 1,748 shelters when hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne slammed onto the shores of Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and other U.S. mainland states.

More than 10 million meals were served in those areas, where hammering winds and massive floods destroyed over 27,476 homes and damaged at least 330,200 homes.

The Red Cross estimates that $91 million is the total amount necessary to provide complete disaster relief assistance to hurricane victims. Seventy-eight million dollars has been pledged toward the $91 million, but for the past few years the American Red Cross has spent more on disaster relief than it has received in donations.

Heather Philpott is the education account manager and the interim public relations manager for the local Red Cross. She said the minimum needed in the national fund to fulfill its obligations should a disaster occur is $57 million. The national organization responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year in the United States, Philpott said. The hurricanes cleaned out all but $30 million in the national fund.

“Those hurricanes were the largest natural disasters we have responded to,” Philpott said. “Sept. 11 was the largest disaster.” She said the most common disasters the Red Cross intercepts are house fires. “In this country, there is a house fire every eight minutes,” Philpott said.

And house fires account for the majority of situations where the Red Cross intervenes in El Paso County. “We’ve spent $27,563 on local disasters – mostly on house fires – from January through October this year,” Philpott said. “We like to keep a minimum of $250,000 in the local fund, and we currently have $60,381.”

She said the Red Cross national headquarters evaluates each chapter based on its level of preparedness and that includes the amount of money maintained in the local fund.

The national fund contributed $7.3 million to help victims of the 2002 Colorado wildfires, and prior to and shortly after the wildfires Coloradoans contributed $3.1 million to the fund.

When the Pikes Peak chapter deployed 25 volunteers to help with this summer’s hurricane relief, it cost the local chapter more than $12,500.

“We are asking businesses and others to help us replenish our funds -nationally and locally,” Philpott said. “We have businesses that donate from $1,000 to $20,000.” She said people who donate can earmark their dollars to a certain disaster or area, such as Florida.

In addition to furnishing shelter, clothing and food for disaster victims, a few of the other services the Red Cross provides are emergency response vehicles, mental health outreach contacts and casework for individuals and families.

The Red Cross opened 53,408 cases for individuals and families directly affected by hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Philpott said assistance doesn’t end when the hurricane season or any other disaster is over.

Accommodating the victims is a long-term process, she said. And the Red Cross is campaigning now to ensure continued help for hurricane casualties and a readiness to meet the demands of the next disaster.

For more information, contact the American Red Cross Pikes Peak Chapter at 632-3563 or visit www.pparc.org.

- Marylou.Doehrman@csbj.com