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Red Cross Fiona effort exceeds all other disasters, with $54.2 million raised

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -

With more than 58,000 people requiring help, the Canadian Red Cross says its relief efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona last September were its largest ever in the country.

In a report released Monday, the agency says it raised $54.2 million in donations for its efforts, including $22.3 million in matching funds from the federal government.

"The number of people registered with the Canadian Red Cross following the disaster exceeded any other event in Canada's history," the report said, adding that more than 1,000 staff and volunteers assisted with the effort.

Fiona slammed into Eastern Canada on the morning of Sept. 24, 2022. The storm knocked down trees and power lines, leaving parts of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in the dark for more than two weeks.

In southwestern Newfoundland, the storm surge gutted homes and drowned a 73-year-old woman. About 100 homes in Port aux Basques, N.L., were destroyed, and most homeowners were denied insurance coverage for their losses.

The Red Cross launched its fundraising appeal for Fiona relief on the day the storm hit. The agency distributed money on behalf of provincial governments, and from the donations it collected. Ottawa promised to match all donations raised by the Red Cross for Fiona relief until Oct. 31, 2022, and it took at least two months from that date for the federal government to distribute the money.

The Red Cross report said the $54.2 million in donations went to on-the-ground operations as well as emergency financial assistance, though it did not give a breakdown. The agency previously said it distributed about $30 million in the form of $500 payments to registered households in Eastern Canada impacted by the storm.

Those efforts were not always seamless.

In Prince Edward Island, some residents spent hours in lineups to verify their identity before they could be paid, sometimes only to be turned away and told to return the next day. Peter Bevan-Baker, leader of Prince Edward Island's official Opposition Green Party, said he'd like to see a full review of the provincial government's response to Fiona, including its partnership and operations with the Red Cross.

"These sorts of events are going to become more frequent, they're going to become more severe," Bevan-Baker said in an interview. "Is the most effective way to (respond) to partner with non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross, or does government need to move this in-house so that we have better control, and that there is public accountability?"

He said he would like to see a more detailed breakdown from the Red Cross of how the Fiona donations were spent.

Glenn McGillivray is the managing director at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, which is a non-profit research centre affiliated with Western University in London, Ont. He says governments need more robust disaster relief plans that can quickly get money to people in need.

"Not only can we do better, we need to do better, because these large events are starting to overlap," McGillivray said in an interview. "We kind of treat every disaster as a one-off .... We do it really ad hoc in Canada. And that's not going to cut it in a warming world."

Canada, McGillivray said, should not be relying so heavily on public donations to the Red Cross and volunteers on the ground to provide disaster response.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.

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