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The American Red Cross has come under fire by frustrated storm victims and elected officials in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with many charging the organization’s relief effort in southern Queens started far too late and has not been nearly strong enough.
“I’ve seen just a lethargic, slow response from the Red Cross,” City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “Embarrassingly minimal.”
Ulrich said he has been on the ground in some of the harder hit regions of Queens daily since the day before the storm and that the organization was nowhere to be found in the first few days after the hurricane. He also said his experience trying to work with the Red Cross to bring a mobile Tide Laundromat truck to Queens has been frustrating, with Tide and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office saying the relief organization should ask Tide to respond, but the Red Cross telling Ulrich that was not the case. Ulrich said he is still waiting for an answer from the Red Cross.
On Sunday, he took to Twitter to express his anger, writing, “Maybe instead of running TV ads asking for money, American Red Cross should be helping my constituents. I wouldn’t give them a dime.”
A spokesman for the Red Cross, Michael Devulpillieres, acknowledged criticism of the organization’s response to Sandy.
“We always wish that we could get there quicker and we understand that people are frustrated and people had difficulty finding us early on,” he said.
He said the Red Cross’s efforts were hampered in the first few days after the storm due to unsafe conditions and impassible roads and bridges. But he said the organization is working hard to identify areas that need the most help and send aid volunteers there.
The Red Cross has two mobile kitchens set up at the Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park and Fort Tilden in the Rockaways and has sent out relief vehicles for other affected areas. So far the Red Cross has distributed 200,000 meals and 150,000 bags of emergency supplies in Queens, Devulpillieres said.
But many residents of Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways levied sharp criticism against the organization, saying that within the week after the storm they had yet to see a Red Cross truck or that the organization had only just shown up.
On Nov. 5 a Red Cross disaster relief truck sat outside the American Legion post in Broad Channel, which has become the de facto aid center for the island, but residents said it was only the second day the truck had been there and the previous day Red Cross volunteers left before it got dark.
One resident and American Legion organizer said the Red Cross had given them a bag of soup to distribute to residents, but no way to serve or heat it.
In the Rockaways Friday, some volunteers working with Occupy Sandy, a grassroots hurricane relief organization with ties to Occupy Wall Street, openly grumbled when they were told the Red Cross would be out in force in the area over Veterans Day weekend.
“It takes two weeks to surge for the Red Cross,” one woman said.
State Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) also blasted the Red Cross for suspending its operations during the nor’easter that swept through the area Nov. 7, causing fierce winds and blanketing the city with snow.
“FYI, people need you more when conditions get worse!” Goldfeder tweeted at the New York Red Cross last Thursday.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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