Hurricane Matthew among disasters Red Cross responded to in 2016

Hurricane Matthew among disasters Red Cross responded to in 2016
Tree down and blocking roadway on Betsy Kerrison at Jenkins Freeman Road. (Source: St. John's Fire Dept.)
Source: Live 5
Source: Live 5
Source: Live 5
Source: Live 5

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The American Red Cross says it responded to 180 significant disasters in 2016, including Hurricane Matthew back in October.

The year set new records for severe and devastating weather, and Red Cross volunteers provided assistance to more people than in the past two years combined, spokesperson Jennifer Heisler said.

In 2016, 32,000 Red Cross volunteers responded in 45 states and two U.S. territories including wildfires, storms, flooding, Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies.

In South Carolina families faced the onslaught of Hurricane Matthew along the coast, felt the impact of wildfires and a tornado in the Upstate, and, across the state, suffered from injuries, deaths and property damage due to home fires.

In the Lowcountry, Heisler said the Red Cross launched relief operations with more than 1,700 workers and 45 response vehicles. Through its partnerships, the Red Cross was able to:

•    Provided nearly 20,000 overnight shelter stays in more than 95 shelters 
•    Served nearly 290,000 meals and snacks 
•    Distributed over 147,000 relief items including comfort kits, tarps, flashlights, trash bags, shovels, rakes, bleach and work gloves
•    Provided more than 10,000 health and mental health services

"Our region was devastated by Matthew and Red Cross workers helped around the clock, making sure people had food to eat, a place to stay and help recovering from this disaster," Palmetto SC Red Cross Region CEO Louise Welch Williams said. "For the second time in a year, many people lost everything and the Red Cross is still there, helping people get back on their feet."

In October 2015, a so-called "1,000-year rain" caused major flooding for much of the state.

As of Dec. 4, the Red Cross provided the following help to people impacted by disasters across the country, opening nearly 800 emergency shelters, providing 206,000 overnight shelter stays to people forced from their homes, serving more than 4.1 million meals and snacks and distributing more than 2.1 million relief items."

"This year a seemingly endless chain of disasters affected hundreds of thousands of people and the Red Cross was there, helping," Williams said. "But we need your support now to continue providing help to families affected by disasters."

Disasters seen across the country in 2016

In just the first three months of 2016, the country faced tornadoes in Texas, flooding in Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, along with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. The Red Cross was there for each one, disaster workers providing shelter, food and comfort to people impacted.

In mid-April, nearly two feet of rain brought devastating flooding to the greater Houston metro area, and again the Red Cross provided shelter, meals and a shoulder to lean on as residents were forced from their homes. Around the May's Memorial Day, devastating flooding again hit Texas, some regions receiving 19 inches of rain. Red Cross disaster workers were mobilized once again to help.

June saw fast-moving wildfires in California and historic flooding in West Virginia which destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of residents to evacuate. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers deployed to lend a hand.

Historic flooding in Louisiana in August devastated tens of thousands of lives. At the peak of the floods, more than 10,000 people were staying in more than 50 shelters. Red Cross disaster workers from all across the country came to the state to help.

In September, significant flooding occurred in Iowa, including Cedar Rapids, and once again people were forced to evacuate. Red Cross workers opened shelters and provided meals and relief supplies.

In October, Hurricane Matthew slammed into Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, damaging tens of thousands of homes and causing devastating flooding. And in late November, raging wildfires forced thousands of people in and around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, from their homes. Again, Red Cross disaster workers opened shelters and provided meals and comfort.

Before Hurricane Matthew hit the United States, the storm made landfall in Haiti, leaving widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure and major crop and livestock loss. The American Red Cross delivered critical relief, including supplies to reduce the increased threat of cholera in the country.

House fires continue to be biggest U.S. disaster threat

Amidst all of these devastating events, home fires continued to be the largest disaster threat in the United States. During 2016, the Red Cross provided casework assistance to help 79,000 families recover after home fires left each with nowhere else to turn.

The Red Cross and thousands of local partners are also working to help prevent home fires, deaths and injuries. Since 2014, at least 116 lives have been saved through the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, a total of 574,000 smoke alarms have been installed, and 625,000 youth have been taught about fire safety.

Here in the Lowcountry, as of Dec. 15, the Red Cross helped nearly 1,200 people after home fires, and, with the help of community partners, installed more than 7,200 smoke alarms, helping to protect more than 2,000 people from home fires, Heisler said.

Relief efforts extended around globe

In addition to relief efforts in Haiti following Matthew, the American Red Cross asssited in other relief efforts worldwide.

A massive wildfire in Alberta, Canada threatened dozens of communities in the spring. The American Red Cross deployed almost 100 employees and volunteers to help.

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador in April, cutting off remote communities and causing severe damage to the country's infrastructure. Red Cross societies from all over the world stepped in to help.

2016 has been the deadliest year for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 4,000 people dead as they try to cross from Libya to Europe. The American Red Cross has contributed funds to help meet the needs of refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life in Europe, including the deployment of a disaster specialist aboard a rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Red Cross depends on the generous support of the American public to assist people affected by disasters. If you would like to help, please consider making a donation today by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross of Lowcountry SC at 2424 City Hall Lane, North Charleston, SC 29406.

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