The Friese Foundation is proud to support organizations working to build communities, provide education and healthcare services, assist struggling low-income families and military veterans, and deliver life-saving rescue services in times of disaster.
The foundation’s recent gift to the American Red Cross fits squarely within these mission priorities and helped the Red Cross respond to people whose lives were upended by Hurricane Ida along the Gulf Coast and the wildfires in the West.
Ida’s path of devastation
Ida made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in southeast Louisiana on Sunday, August 29, 2021. It was 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit the same area. Over the next few days, Ida, although downgraded to a tropical storm, continued a trajectory of destruction along the Gulf Coast and farther inland.
By September 9, the death toll in the United States alone approached 100. Experts also class Ida as the seventh most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. since the year 2000. Estimates of the economic impact—which includes property damage, lost work and wages, and decreases in tourism—rose to approximately $95 billion. Two weeks after Ida pummeled the state, tens of thousands of Louisianans in New Orleans and beyond remained without power in their homes.
As it swept farther inland, Tropical Storm Ida spawned tornadoes, and over a single night dumped more than two times the average monthly rainfall on parts of the Northeast. Dozens of the deaths associated with the storm were due to heavy flash-flooding in places like New Jersey and New York.
A partner in healing
As always in times of immense human suffering and destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure, the Red Cross was there—and it still is. Well into September, volunteers were continuing the long-term effort of saving lives, providing emergency assistance, and rebuilding, from the Deep South through the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys and into the Northeast.
Red Cross volunteers drove an emergency response vehicle bringing hot meals and comfort to the hard-hit bayou community of Galliano, Louisiana, in Lafourche Parish. Other Red Cross teams fanned out to bring food, water, cleaning supplies, personal care items, and more to people in other particularly devastated parishes. Red Cross shelters also have provided safe temporary homes for thousands of people evacuated from some of the most damaged areas along Ida’s path.
The Red Cross’s trained emergency response teams continue to collaborate with local officials as they help to measure the destruction and gauge ongoing needs. In many hurricane-damaged communities, the organization is part of a multi-agency effort to help in whatever ways are most needed.
By September 9, some 1,800 Red Cross disaster workers had helped facilitate shelter for about 20,000 people and helped deliver close to 200,000 meals across the map of Ida’s damage. While these numbers are impressive on their own, they are even more remarkable, given the depth of the human connection and commitment that lies behind each of them.
The new landscape of fire
The year 2021 produced another in the recent string of devastating wildfire seasons in California, which experts note are beginning earlier in the year and lasting longer. Names like Caldor, Dixie, and Monument are no longer evocative of picturesque small towns and beautiful national forests. They are now associated with all-too-familiar images of blazing flames and homes reduced to piles of ash and cinders.
The Caldor Fire in El Dorado County and Lake Tahoe, for example, is one of the largest in the history of California. In just the first two weeks after it started in mid-August, the fire had consumed more than 200,000 acres of land. By mid-September, it had burned down almost 800 homes and numerous businesses, injured more than a dozen firefighters and civilians, and subjected tens of thousands to evacuation orders.
NASA’s space satellite imaging easily picked up the wide swath of smoke that blanketed parts of California and Nevada, prompting local governments to issue health warnings. Alerts to “unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality as a result of the wildfires have become a common feature of life for people throughout California and the West.
In total, California recorded more than 7,300 wildfires by mid-September. Experts predicted more devastation to come, due to the effects of climate change and local dry, windy weather conditions.
A helping hand for the long haul
Since June, the Red Cross has offered support to people throughout the multiple states scarred by wildfires. The Red Cross and its local partners have provided emergency shelters and hotel placements to more than 19,000 people across the West, along with temporary evacuation gathering points to tens of thousands of displaced people. On one night alone, the Red Cross and its partners sheltered more than 4,500 people who had been forced to flee the fires.
Alongside these services, the organization helped deliver vital supplies, along with financial aid, emergency information-and-referral services, and medical care. The Red Cross, working with its partners, also served more than 84,000 meals and snacks. These efforts have brought 1,200 Red Cross responders and volunteers to fire-damaged and threatened communities.
In this ongoing relief program, the Red Cross plans to maintain a presence in these areas as long as its support is needed.