Report Faults Red Cross Response to Isaac, Sandy

NEW YORK (AP) -
Red Cross vehicles lined up in Far Rockaway on Nov. 5, 2012, six days after Sandy hit. (Larry Fortmuller/American Red Cross)
Red Cross vehicles lined up in Far Rockaway on Nov. 5, 2012, six days after Sandy hit. (Larry Fortmuller/American Red Cross)

The American Red Cross mishandled its responses to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and often seemed more focused on public relations than on helping victims, according to an investigative report published Wednesday.

ProPublica and NPR spoke to current and former staffers and viewed internal documents for the report.

Red Cross veteran Richard Rieckenberg, who helped coordinate the relief effort in Mississippi after Isaac struck in 2012, said one official gave an order to send out 80 trucks — even though they were empty or were carrying snacks instead of being filled with meals and basic supplies like diapers.

The volunteers “were told to drive around and look like you’re giving disaster relief” to impress visiting Red Cross brass, Rieckenberg said.

The Red Cross stationed hundreds of volunteers in Tampa, keeping them there long after it became clear Isaac would bypass the city. Many of them used up their available time in Tampa and never went to storm-hit areas.

The problems continued when Sandy struck the New York City area. At the peak of the post-storm crisis, 15 emergency response vehicles — 40 percent of those available in the state — were assigned to public relations duties while people in neighborhoods like the Rockaways lacked food and drinkable water.

Relief workers from other groups often found the Red Cross’ efforts in New York to be ineffectual, the report said. Volunteers said that one Red Cross truck brought a truck full of pork lunches to a Jewish retirement high-rise.