NEW YORK (Reuters) - The American Red Cross said on Sunday it regrets not responding sooner to areas on the U.S. East Coast hardest hit by superstorm Sandy and is working aggressively to distribute food, water and other supplies to victims across New York and New Jersey.
The privately funded organization blamed flooding and other infrastructure problems for its slow response to the storm, which has killed more than 110 people and caused billions in property damage.
The delay in relief response from the Red Cross has been widely criticized by politicians. James Molinaro, president of Staten Island, a New York City borough roughly a 25-minute ferry ride from Lower Manhattan, went so far as to ask residents not to donate to the Red Cross.
“Do we wish we could have been there sooner? You bet,” said Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the American Red Cross.
“When you have 8 million people in need, with roads that are damaged, infrastructure broken down, flooding everywhere, we can’t be there that fast. And we feel bad about that.”
Lowe said that a Red Cross vehicle was on the way to Staten Island last Thursday when Molinaro blasted the group.
The Red Cross is working aggressively to ramp up services for victims and has served more than 481,000 meals and snacks, Lowe said.
About 60 trailers filled with rakes, shovels, personal hygiene items and other relief supplies will arrive in the region this weekend. The Red Cross is also planning to distribute 80,000 blankets before more cold weather is expected later this week, Lowe said.
Most supplies were stored ahead of Sandy in five staging areas just out of Sandy’s reach. Getting it to the hardest hit areas, many located along the waterfront, proved difficult in the days after Sandy, Lowe said.
“You don’t want to put your relief workers or your relief supplies in these areas that are about to be hit by the hurricane,” he said.
The Red Cross is not aware of any infrastructure problems now hampering relief work, he said.
All of the group’s 320 emergency response vehicles across the United States are now at Sandy recovery sites distributing food and water, or are on their way. Eight large kitchens in New York and New Jersey are making meals that the emergency vehicles pick up and distribute to victims, Lowe said.
Yet on social media sites, some victims complained that the Red Cross still hasn’t reached them.
In Breezy Point, a neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens where a fire burned more than 100 houses, several residents have claimed on Twitter that the Red Cross hasn’t visited yet.
It was a claim that Lowe flatly denied.
“I know we’re in Breezy Point,” he said. “We’re working to get to more and more neighborhoods every day, and as we hear of places. We’re where think we need to be.”
Reporting By Ernest Scheyder; editing by Dan Burns and Christopher Wilson