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Red Cross Update On Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts


With so much property damage already, there are thousands of people displaced in Houston. The Red Cross has been working on the ground, delivering meals and getting to residents to shelters. We spoke with their vice president of disaster operations, Brad Kieserman, who's been directing the relief efforts from the Red Cross Disaster Operations Center in Fairfax, Va. I started our conversation by asking him to tell us how many people are in shelters right now.

BRAD KIESERMAN: The number of people in shelters just continues to fluctuate. I am expecting that, by tomorrow, we will see, at least, 20,000 to 30,000 people in shelters. There are people taking shelter in churches and community centers. And just trying to capture all of that information in this chaos is challenging. This has got to be one of the most devastating and catastrophic events I have seen in my career.

MARTIN: How long have you been with the Red Cross? Can you give us some sense of that - the scope of this in your experience?

KIESERMAN: I've been involved in emergency management for over 30 years. And just to give you a sense of what we're seeing here, the rain, the flooding, the wind - and this is really a two-disaster problem - right? The hurricane struck, and that brought wind, and it brought some rain, and it brought a storm surge. And now, we're dealing with absolutely monumental flooding. This is unlike anything that we've seen in Texas in, I think, anyone's lifetime. The area that is flooding - just to give you a sense - I heard you talk about the triangle earlier - if you really look at all the places that are flooding and that are going to flood, the flood waters are not going to recede in most places for weeks.

We will be flooded well past Labor Day. The area that's going to be flooding is about the size of Lake Michigan. Hurricane Harvey has effectively turned South and Central Texas into a lake the size of Michigan. And I don't think that's an exaggeration. Every leading indicator we're seeing - the number of people in shelters, the number of people calling for rescue, the river levels that are rising and the speed, the rainfall totals - everything is indicating that this is as catastrophic as you could possibly imagine from a Category 4 storm.

MARTIN: You know, the organization has faced some criticism in recent disasters for failing to meet immediate needs, let alone the intermediate and the long-term needs. So is there something that you've learned from previous experience that has been helpful in this particular experience?

KIESERMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the first thing is we prepositioned resources when we even began to think that Harvey was going to reform. And so we have resources right now in Texas to shelter well over 30,000 people. And by tonight, we'll have enough in place to shelter well over 55,000 people.

The other thing we've learned is this - we've just got to focus on mass care - that is the provision of feeding and shelter to people who need that. And that's our core strength, our core competency. We have to work with our partners. It takes a whole community, especially in a disaster of this magnitude, and that means government, the faith-based community, volunteer organizations. You know, the Red Cross - we're not the team, we're part of the team.

MARTIN: OK. This is - we have under 30 seconds left. So again, I'm going to - is there anything you do need? Is there anything you don't need, that you don't want people to do?

KIESERMAN: What we really would like have people do is text 90999 and the word Harvey. Donations are the most important thing we can do. We're putting thousands of people into Texas in resources - those costs money. And so folks' philanthropic donations will really help with that.

MARTIN: All right. And I think - that's - I think we got that for now. Brad Kieserman is running the Red Cross's Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. I'm sure we'll be talking to you in the days ahead. We reached him in Fairfax. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

KIESERMAN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate that.

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