Red Cross Response to Katrina Criticized

In the last five weeks, the American Red Cross has mobilized more than 170,000 relief workers. It has housed nearly half a million people in hotels and shelters. And it has doled out more than $800 million in emergency assistance.

Jearlean Osborne, right, and her daughter Yolanda

hide captionJearlean Osborne, right, and her daughter Yolanda ferried hurricane victims 4 1/2 hours to Columbus, Miss., to escape long lines at the Red Cross relief center in Biloxi.

Gisele Grayson, NPR

Still, all across the Gulf Coast, people are criticizing the non-profit group's relief efforts during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Song for Hurricane Victims

This recording, of a song written and performed by Martin Folse, was played last week at a hurricane rally in Houma, La.

Common complaints have been busy Red Cross phone lines, assistance that was inadequate or came too late, and the location of Red Cross relief centers, some of which have been difficult to find or reach.

Red Cross officials acknowledge the problems, but say the unprecedented size and complexity of the task was central to the difficulties that followed.

The group had to recruit and train thousands of new volunteers; it's now processing 35,000 claims a day.

A Red Cross spokeswoman says the group will analyze its performance and "will definitely make some changes that will help us in future disasters of this magnitude."

Web Extra: Red Cross Hurricane Response by the Numbers

Estimated number of Hurricane Katrina victims dispersed across the country: 750,000

Number of surviving families provided Red Cross financial assistance: 929,000

Number of Red Cross shelters for hurricane victims: 1,150

Number of hurricane victims still provided Red Cross housing at shelters and hotels: 483,000

Amount paid out in Red Cross emergency financial assistance to hurricane survivors: $854 million

Amount Red Cross has spent to date on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts: $1.3 billion

Amount in gifts and pledges received by the Red Cross for hurricane relief: $1.1 billion

Amount the Red Cross expects to need for hurricane relief efforts: $2 billion

Number of Red Cross relief workers mobilized in response to Hurricane Katrina: 177,600

Number of Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles deployed in Mississippi counties most directly affected by Hurricane Katrina: 75

Number of Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles deployed in Hancock County, Miss., five days after Hurricane Katrina: 1 (source: Betty Brunner)

Number of Red Cross shelters opened in Hancock County, Miss., for hurricane Katrina evacuees: 1

Number of hurricane shelters opened in Hancock County, Miss., by groups other than the Red Cross: 5

Number of Red Cross shelters opened in counties adjacent to Hancock for Hurricane Katrina evacuees: 22

Number of Red Cross volunteers deployed in Hancock County, Miss., immediately after Hurricane Katrina: Five (source: Betty Brunner)

Number of Red Cross volunteers deployed in counties adjacent to Hancock immediately after Hurricane Katrina: 50

Estimated number of people left homeless in Hancock County, Miss., due to Hurricane Katrina: 30,000 (source: Hancock County Emergency Operations Center)

Population of Hancock County, Miss.: 46,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau)

Source: The American Red Cross, except as noted; all data as of Oct. 5, 2005

Wildfire Response Redemptive for Red Cross

The American Red Cross was widely criticized for its poor response to victims of Hurricane Katrina. But it's been a different story in Southern California, where supplies and assistance arrived in abundance early on.

The Red Cross has a charter from Congress to provide relief to disaster victims. Poor communication and bureaucratic issues highlighted by its Katrina response were targeted in a major re-organization that is still under way.

Now, the wildfires are its first big test post-Katrina.

By Monday evening — the first day of the fire evacuation — the Red Cross had five shelters open in the San Diego area. Eventually, it had opened 14 shelters. But those didn't include the area's largest shelter — Qualcomm Stadium, which housed 10,000 evacuees.

That was opened by the city of Chula Vista, south of San Diego, which had to set up its own shelter.

"When the city called for assistance to other agencies that would normally be able to provide assistance, that assistance was not available," Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said.

Vincent Mudd, the chairman of the San Diego and Imperial County Red Cross, told NPR member station KPBS noted the scope of the evacuation order.

"No one anticipated that this would be something that evacuated over 650,000 Californians," Mudd said.

"In the first day and the second day, we ... were beyond the limit of what we could all do, and we still had to do more," he added.

The local chapter had just 2,000 cots on hand for people to sleep on. But that's where the post-Katrina reorganization plan kicked in.

There are now regional Red Cross supply centers instead of a central location. Within 48 hours, 10,000 additional cots were trucked from the regional warehouse in Reno.

Also, the Red Cross used to be pretty possessive of its supplies. When other agencies asked to share, they were turned down. This time, the Red Cross gave 1,000 cots and 10,000 blankets to the Qualcomm shelter.

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