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Week's 200 Tornadoes Deplete Red Cross Disaster Fund

May 11, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — As crews in Oklahoma and Kansas worked to restore power and search for victims after yet another round of violent tornadoes, the American Red Cross said Friday it was running out of money to respond to disasters."The devastation that's been left behind from more than 200 tornadoes this week alone is shocking," said Terry J. Sicilia, the organization's executive vice president of disaster services. "We've spent more to assist people during disasters this year than what has been received in funding, and we're relying on the public to help us help others in this critical time."

The Red Cross' disaster relief fund, which typically has a $50-million cushion, has dwindled to $5 million. Sicilia estimates that the costs of the recent tornadoes may deplete the fund entirely if more donations don't come in soon.

Since Sunday, tornado-packed storms have killed at least 42 people -- 18 in Missouri, 15 in Tennessee, seven in Kansas and two in Illinois. Officials have estimated damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In the Oklahoma City area on Thursday, tornadoes destroyed more than 300 homes and injured at least 104 people, five critically. Firefighters went door to door to make sure no one remained trapped by debris.

For Kansas, Thursday's round of storms was the second in less than a week. No deaths were reported there or in Oklahoma from the latest storms.

The Oklahoma twister cut a path of destruction a quarter-mile wide and 3 1/2 miles long through Moore, just south of Oklahoma City. Moore lost 335 homes and businesses, and dozens more were leveled in Oklahoma City, Midwest City and Choctaw.

The state insurance commissioner estimated the damage will exceed $100 million, Gov. Brad Henry said.

"It's devastating. Where the tornado hit, it leveled almost everything," Henry said after touring the affected areas in a helicopter.

At least seven tornadoes swept across Kansas on Thursday night. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius declared a state of emergency for six counties.

"It's hard to believe we are being faced with more damage and destruction so soon," she said in a statement.

High wind also hit southeastern Nebraska, tearing a section of roof off a manufacturing company in Filley. Meteorologists had not yet determined whether the damage was caused by a tornado.

Meanwhile, the South struggled with flooding. Rivers in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia were fat with more than a foot of rain that fell in less than a week.

Schools remained closed Friday in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the Tennessee River had swollen 6 feet above flood stage. Rescue workers there found a man's body floating in a flooded tire lot.

In the Chattanooga suburb of East Ridge, some of the more than 1,000 evacuees were returning home Friday.

"A lot of the water has receded. It's like somebody has pulled the cork out of the drain," deputy fire chief Ken Gann said.

A day earlier, high waters blocked access to East Ridge Hospital, and employees were ferried to the entrance in a pickup.

"I saw a carp in the front parking lot this morning," hospital CEO Jerri Underwood said.

Those who want to contribute to the Red Cross disaster relief fund can call 1-800-HELP-NOW or visit the organization's Website, www.redcross.com.

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