ST. PAUL (AP) -- The American Red Cross has the blessing of Minnesota's attorney general as it prepares to close the books on relief for victims of Red River Valley flooding in 1997.
A year ago, former Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III criticized the Red Cross, saying it pulled away too quickly from the floods, leaving victims stranded and millions of donated relief dollars unspent. The flooding forced the evacuation of more than 60,000 people and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage.
Following the criticism, the Red Cross paid for full-page newspaper ads and hundreds of radio and TV commercials in an effort to find flood victims who had not been helped or those who needed more help. Its workers visited temporary housing units and contacted people who had received maximum state aid. It made grants to a half-dozen other agencies to help with mental-health and financial counseling, home repairs for the elderly and housing for volunteer labor. And it engaged in planning and buying emergency-response vehicles for possible future disasters.
Attorney General Mike Hatch complimented Humphrey's administration last week for raising concerns a year ago and complimented the Red Cross for addressing the issues. The Red Cross' final report, issued early last month, is ''very positive'' and closes the case for his office, Hatch said Thursday.
The agency said in a recent report that it believes it has ''responded to substantially all of the flood-related requests for individual assistance that are likely to arise.''
By the time loose ends are tied up, the organization will have spent nearly all of the $16 million donated for Red River Valley flood relief and perhaps as much as $700,000 more, it said. Since June 1998, the Red Cross calculates it has given financial aid or other assistance to about 850 individuals and families in addition to 11,900 who got disaster relief earlier.
''I don't think there's any way that you ever reach everybody that you should,'' said Mason Hollifield, executive of the Red Cross Red River Valley Chapter in Grand Forks, N.D., and a leader in the agency's flood-relief effort. ''Overall, we're pretty darned pleased with the results. I think we have done a good job of stewardship with donated dollars.''
Humphrey said in his December 1998 report that his office began investigating in November 1997 after hearing that many people had unmet needs while the Red Cross had not spent all of the $16 million in donations earmarked to help flood victims.
After negotiations with Humphrey's office, the Red Cross announced a 1 1/2-year plan to allocate $4.3 million in unspent flood-relief donations on further outreach and victim aid and on preparedness and relief for future disasters.
But Humphrey said that the plan was poorly implemented, that the Red Cross was less accountable than it should have been and that some flood victims were confronted by bureaucratic hurdles. The attorney general's office held public forums in the Red River Valley to hear more about needs.
Now, the Red Cross said in its December report it has given financial aid to 575 individuals and families since June 1998, has earmarked money for further help and still maintains a phone line for assistance calls.
Some of the help has gone to aid people in later phases of recovery, to pay security deposits and medical expenses, and to clean up mildew, elevate furnaces and repair wells and septic systems.
Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens said she hasn't seen the final Red Cross report, but ''they have been really good to us.'' The community is, ''in my mind, doing better than we expected, and I think the people are feeling that, too,'' Owens said.
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