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Red Cross Criticized Over "Political" Storm Response

The relief agency used trucks as news conference backdrops and wasted food, according to a ProPublica–NPR investigation. "They weren't interested in doing mass care; they were interested in the illusion of mass care," said one worker.

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The American Red Cross botched the response to Superstorm Sandy — which struck New York City two years ago today — and other disasters, putting public appearances and politics above relief efforts, according to an investigation published Wednesday.

During Sandy, about 40% of trucks were used as backdrops for news conferences. During Hurricane Isaac, which hit Louisiana in August 2012, about 80 trucks were driven around the disaster area, empty, just for appearance purposes, according to the joint ProPublica–NPR investigation.

"It was just clear to me that they weren't interested in doing mass care; they were interested in the illusion of mass care," Richard Rieckenberg, who helped lead the Red Cross' response to Sandy and Hurricane Isaac, told the outlets.

In one instance, relief organizers ordered cooks to prepare 200,000 meals to drive up relief stats. But much of the food wasn't distributed and instead went to waste, according to the report, which relied on internal Red Cross records and interviews with staffers and associates.

Overall where relief efforts and resources were focused was "politically driven instead of [Red Cross] planned."

The Red Cross defended its performance.

"I'm very proud of the services we provided," Trevor Riggen, a vice president, told the outlets. "I think the volume of services and the speed at which we provided it speaks to the quality of service of the volunteers and staff on the ground."

Tom Namako is the deputy news director for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tom Namako at

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