Phila.-area Red Cross has been very busy this winter

Posted: March 05, 2014

Amid a winter ranked among the worst in the Philadelphia region's history, the local Red Cross has struggled to deliver disaster relief.

"We have been incredibly busy," Renee Cardwell Hughes, CEO of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania, said Monday.

The area has been buffeted by excessive snow, bitter temperatures, ice storms, and power outages.

"We always see an uptick in fires when the weather gets cold, but because there has been no break in the cold weather, we have seen an incredible number of fires," the former Common Pleas Court judge said.

"We respond to fires, flooding, building collapses, gas explosions, ice storms, traffic pileups, you name it," Cardwell Hughes said.

Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader said this winter is costing the agency from 3 percent to 5 percent more than expected.

"We are significantly over on our disaster response budget, due to the high number of responses we've experienced this winter," he said.

The National Weather Service said this winter has been the region's third snowiest, with 62.9 inches so far. Temperatures were about four degrees below normal for January and February at an average of 30.1 degrees.

The local Red Cross chapter, which covers Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, said it responded to 129 disasters, helping 234 adults and 136 children, in January. During November and December, the agency responded to a total of 190 disasters, helping 763 people, it said.

In February, the agency provided help to many during record snows, an ice storm, and massive power outages.

And on Valentine's Day, the Red Cross brought relief, delivering blankets, food and water, to hundreds of motorists left stranded for hours after a series of crashes and pileups shut down the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Willow Grove and Bensalem exits.

"While people were stranded, we wanted them to be as comfortable as possible," Cardwell Hughes said.

She said the Red Cross had helped more than 400 people this winter with temporary housing, adding that some needed shelter for a few nights while others needed housing for a couple of weeks.

All those responses, she said, have affected the agency's finances.

"It has been an issue for us because we're a not-for-profit," she said. "We don't get government funding. Everything we do is literally on the generosity of citizens who are willing to volunteer or donate."

Cardwell Hughes said people can volunteer or donate at the agency's website, www.redcross.org/pa/philadelphia. "Donations do make a difference, and in this time of need, it is really important that people donate," she said, adding that March is Red Cross Month.


vclark@phillynews.com215-854-5717

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