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Spate of disasters empties Red Cross coffers

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 17, 2008
A string of recent weather-related calamities across the United States has left the American Red Cross low on cash and struggling to provide aid to disaster victims, officials from the premier US charity group said Tuesday.

"Our disaster relief fund is empty, but there's a lot of need out there and the Red Cross is responding," Suzy De Francis, the chief public affairs officer for the American Red Cross, told AFP.

More than 11 million people in nine midwestern states have been affected by extreme weather and the worst flooding in living memory in recent weeks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has said.

The Red Cross has responded to tornadoes in Kansas, and floods in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana and West Virginia in recent weeks.

"We are currently responding to 30 large-scale disasters across the country, and that has required us to borrow funds to continue to respond," said De Francis, who estimates that the charity will need as much as 20 million dollars to meet the needs of current disaster victims.

Recent weeks have seen an unusually violent tornado season across the central United States, as well as drenching rains that have caused epic flooding throughout the US Midwest.

De Francis noted that the dreaded wildfire and hurricane seasons also are "about to go into full swing" in parts of the United States.

In 2005, the American Red Cross borrowed more than 400 million dollars to meet the needs of victims of Hurricane Katrina, but more than recouped its loan in the months that followed, when donations in excess of two billion dollars poured in the organization.

But some of the recent disasters are less visible, and bring in fewer monetary donations, said De Francis, who said such calamaties "cost money but don't raise a lot of money."

"People give more when there's a major disaster such as hurricane Katrina because they see it on TV -- they see the people who are hurting and they open their hearts and their wallets," she said, explaining why emergency relief coffers are bare.

De Francis said tough economic times also have cramped the generosity of individual Americans, who make up the bulk of Red Cross donors.

"When you have a difficult economic situation ... people have less disposable income, and they tend to cut back on their charitable donations," she said.

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