Red Cross reeling after a year filled with disasters Relief agency spends more than ever before

November 27, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- An unprecedented spell of disasters socked the American Red Cross with its costliest year ever this year.

Since January, the Red Cross has spent $162 million for 239 major disasters in 41 states and three U.S. territories, Red Cross Vice President John Clizbe announced Tuesday. Last year, the Red Cross spent $46 million on disaster relief.

Hurricanes and floods in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico hit Red ** Cross coffers the hardest.

The Red Cross had worked for the past five years to reduce the costs of disaster recovery by helping people prepare for natural disasters. Relief expenditures had been dropping since the decade's high of $126.5 million in 1992, the year Hurricane Andrew smacked South Florida. That hurricane, which cost the Red Cross $81.5 million for emergency shelter, meals, mental-health counseling and financial help, had been the agency's most expensive relief operation.

"We were beginning to succeed until Hurricane Georges came along and clobbered us" in September, Clizbe said. Georges, which hit eight locations along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, cost the Red Cross about $104 million.

In January, the Red Cross helped residents of New York, Maine and Vermont weather severe blizzards. In February, massive flooding hit California and tornadoes killed 42 people in Florida. In March, tornadoes leveled houses in southern Minnesota and flooding devastated small towns in Alabama and Georgia.

In April, tornadoes hit Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas. In May, tornadoes struck in North Carolina, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In June, wildfires burned half a million acres of Florida forests and floods soaked Iowa and Ohio. Floods hit Tennessee in July.

The summer brought devastating storms. Hurricane Bonnie caused flooding in North Carolina and Virginia. Tropical Storm Charley whipped the Texas communities of Del Rio and Laredo. Tropical Storm Frances flooded Louisiana and Texas.

The Red Cross responded to Florida 21 times -- more than any other state during 1998. In Florida alone, the Red Cross sheltered 69,099 people and provided 530,179 meals.

Texas required Red Cross assistance for 19 disasters, including six major fires, three severe storms, three hurricanes or tropical storms, two floods and four tornadoes.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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