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Floods, Fires, Flu and a Tsunami Kept Red Cross Busy in 2009
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December 31, 2009
Thursday, December 31, 2019 — The year 2009 was a busy time for the American Red Cross, despite the fact that no major hurricanes hit the United States.

At the national level, the Red Cross responded to floods, wildfires, a tsunami and the first flu pandemic in 40 years. As part of its historic duty to support the nation’s military, 320 Red Cross staff were on deployment around the world, including 18 in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait, serving our men and women who are on active duty as well as National Guard and Reservist units, veterans and military families. Red Cross blood services distributed millions of blood products to help patients in thousands of hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.

The 692 Red Cross chapters across the country responded to thousands of home fires and helped keep the country trained and prepared for emergencies and disasters. Millions learned First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and the proper use of AEDs. Chapter instructors taught people how to swim, and how to be a lifeguard. Young babysitters received Red Cross training, and caregivers and nurse assistants also came to the Red Cross to learn new skills.

From Alaska to the Gulf Coast, from the West to the East, the Red Cross responded to help those in need. There were many Red Cross stories this year—stories of response, help, comfort and service. The top stories of 2009 were:

1. H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic
H1N1 Flu

The H1N1 worldwide flu pandemic continues to be the top American Red Cross story of 2009. The Red Cross began educating people in the United States about swine flu even before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on June 11.

The pandemic had its beginnings in mid-March when the government of Mexico reported several cases of H1N1 influenza. Those numbers rose steadily, and in April there were more than 882 cases reported in Mexico, with 62 fatalities. By April 24, the U.S. was reporting seven confirmed cases in California and Texas. By June 11, 74 countries were reporting over 27,000 cases of H1N1 flu.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Red Cross continues to educate the public on how to remain healthy during the pandemic. The information comes in many forms, including special programs for parents and their children, educational videos, a flu checklist and media releases. The Red Cross has specialized information for caregivers, communities, schools, workplaces and families.

2. Tsunami hits Samoa and American Samoa
Tsunami hits Samoa and American Samoa
Tsunami hits Samoa and American Samoa

A series of tsunamis smashed into the Pacific island nations of Samoa and American Samoa on September 29, destroying villages, injuring hundreds and causing numerous fatalities. Most of the area was without power or water, and damage was widespread.

Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), UPS and FedEx, the United States Air Force and Coast Guard, the American Red Cross sent more than 300 volunteers and supplies from the United States to supplement the relief efforts of the local Red Cross team on American Samoa. In the first month, the Red Cross helped more than 65,000 people and contributed more than 84,000 bulk items—including cleaning supplies and disaster kits—to meet the immediate needs of those affected.

The global Red Cross network provided assistance for people on Samoa in the form of kitchen sets, mosquito nets, blankets and sheltering materials. Help also came from Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada and Tuvalu.

3. Earthquake in Indonesia; typhoons in Vietnam and Philippines
Typhoon in Philippines

The global Red Cross network responded to nearly simultaneous disasters in the Asia-Pacific region in late September and early October.

On September 26, Typhoon Ketsana dumped torrential rains in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Three days later, on September 29, a strong earthquake followed by a tsunami devastated the Pacific islands of Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa (see above). Then, on September 30 and October 1, two major earthquakes rocked Indonesia.

When the earthquakes hit, the Indonesian Red Cross immediately deployed hundreds of staff and volunteers to provide emergency relief to survivors. The Red Cross dispatched tents, tarps, blankets, hygiene kits and sleeping mats to the affected area. Red Cross volunteers evacuated people and provided first aid. The American Red Cross committed to providing an initial $100,000 to support the Indonesian Red Cross.

In the Philippines, Red Cross search and rescue teams saved people when flood waters from Typhoon Ketsana took many by surprise. More than 100 centers offered shelter, hot meals and comfort to nearly 75,000 people after their homes were suddenly inundated with flood water. Relief efforts continued for several days as entire towns were submerged, power was out, and landslides added to the danger.

In Vietnam, the Red Cross evacuated 160,000 people in advance of Ketsana’s landfall. The storm caused serious flooding and severely damaged agriculture, affecting more than 60,000 people.

4. Earthquake in Italy
Earthquake in Italy
Earthquake in Italy

The worst earthquake in nearly 30 years struck the city of L’Aquila in central Italy on April 6, leaving more than 28,000 people homeless, more than 1,500 injured and causing numerous fatalities.

Hundreds of Italian Red Cross volunteers were on the scene immediately, searching for people trapped in the rubble and providing emergency care for the injured. The Red Cross set up mobile kitchens and a field hospital, using Red Cross ambulances to evacuate the injured to area hospitals. In one day, the Italian Red Cross aided more than 300 wounded patients. Psychological support teams worked to help families deal with their losses.

The American Red Cross committed $50,000 to support the humanitarian relief activities being carried out by the Italian Red Cross. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies allocated 700,000 Swiss Francs ($613,944) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Italian Red Cross in its efforts.

5. Flooding in Fargo, North Dakota
Flooding in Fargo, North Dakota
Sandbag production in Fargo, North Dakota

In late March, residents of Fargo, North Dakota prepared for devastating flooding from the nearby Red River. The American Red Cross was on the scene as residents filled sandbags to hold back the rising water.

The Red Cross provided meals to the sandbag volunteers and opened six shelters, giving people a warm, safe place to stay. Nearly 700 Red Cross disaster volunteers worked in the area, providing more than 38,000 meals and nearly 110,000 snacks to evacuated families and emergency workers. Thirty-four Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) provided mobile feeding. Neighboring Red Cross chapters sent trailers full of cots and blankets to help supply the shelters.

6. California wildfires
California Wildfires
California Wildfires Feeding Station

Wildfires burned thousands of acres in California in the spring and summer of 2009, and the American Red Cross responded, offering shelter, food and comfort to residents affected by the massive fires.

In May, an estimated 30,000 people were evacuated in Santa Barbara. About 2,300 firefighters fought the inferno. The Red Cross operated several shelters and worked with the Humane Society to house animals whose owners had been evacuated from their homes.

In August and September, wildfires flared again in Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz counties. Red Cross chapters opened shelters and offered a safe haven for evacuees. The Santa Cruz County Chapter deployed an ERV to feed firefighters and evacuees.

7. Holiday Mail for Heroes
Holiday Mail for Heroes
Holiday Mail for Heroes

The American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes Inc. joined together for the third Holiday Mail for Heroes program, delivering holiday greetings to military bases and hospitals, veterans hospitals and other locations in the U.S. and abroad during the holidays. The program kicked off with a special event in Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day, with a performance by musician Amy Grant.

Many individuals, families and groups participated in the card program, adding Holiday Mail for Heroes to their annual holiday activities. As a result, hundreds of thousands of greeting cards were distributed to U.S. military members and veterans.

The Red Cross utilized volunteers at over 300 participating chapters nationwide to sort and deliver greetings to military and veterans hospitals and military bases in November and December.

8. Home fires

In 2009, the American Red Cross responded to more than 63,000 home fires across the country. That’s more than 170 responses a day. The biggest disaster threat to families isn’t floods, hurricanes or tornadoes. It’s fire.

Red Cross response to single-family fires doesn’t usually receive national publicity. But, the Red Cross provided emergency assistance in the form of food, shelter, and emotional support for those affected by these devastating fires.

9. Red Cross turns financial picture around

The American Red Cross made tremendous progress financially during the last fiscal year, slashing its operating deficit from $209 million to $33.5 million. Instead of borrowing money, response to the 2008 hurricanes Ike and Gustav (among other disasters), was accomplished through a $100 million fundraising campaign.

Red Cross President and CEO Gail McGovern spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, describing the demands the Red Cross faced during her first year of leadership, and how the Red Cross met the challenges. She outlined how non-profit organizations can stay afloat, especially in these challenging economic times.

Despite the struggling economy, the Red Cross pledged to close its deficit, grow its revenues and reduce its debt. Ninety-two cents of every dollar given to the Red Cross is invested in humanitarian services and programs.

10. Holiday gift catalog

The American Red Cross launched its “Gifts that Save the Day” holiday giving campaign in mid-November, featuring an online gift catalog.

Through the catalog at www.redcross.org/gifts, people can make a donation that could provide food and shelter for a disaster victim for a day; a military comfort kit with a robe, phone card and other supplies for a wounded warrior; or a month of basic necessities for a family in another country who lost everything in a disaster. Gifts made through the catalog are contributions towards a Red Cross program area, not a donation to a specific project or item.

Several members of the Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet are supporting the fundraising effort, including actors Jimmy Smits, Amanda Peet, Masi Oka, Jane Seymour and Marlee Matlin, television personality Dr. Phil McGraw and artists Amy Grant, Sara Evans, Pat Green and Rascal Flatts.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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