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Rocky Mount Couple Caught In Red Cross' Red Tape

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ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. — Whenever there is a crisis like a flood or a hurricane, organizations ask people to donate money to help the victims, but Five On Your Side has been hearing a lot lately from victims who say they are not being helped.

Ironically, Sept. 11 is what brought a problem for one Rocky Mount couple to the surface again. Their crisis involves Hurricane Floyd. After it hit in 1999, millions of dollars were donated for relief, $16 million to the American Red Cross alone. When flood victim Robert Morris tried to collect his relief funds, he got caught in Red Cross red tape.

"It was like living in a nightmare," he said. "When water started coming in the house and the furniture started floating around, we knew we were in trouble."

When Hurricane Floyd rolled in, Morris and his wife were renting a house in Rocky Mount.

"We lost everything except for a handful of clothes and one vehicle," he said.

Morris went to the American Red Cross for help. They offered to reimburse the security deposit and the first month's rent on a new apartment. Morris found one under construction, paid for it and took the forms and copies of checks to the Red Cross.

"When the Red Cross representatives found out we weren't moving in right now because it's under construction, they wrote a note at the top of their form, 'Bring this back when you move in the new dwelling,'" he said.

That was October 1999. The Morrises moved in the following January after the Red Cross flood offices closed down. Morris called the agency's 1-800 number. He was told he was too late to get any money. He kept trying for months, then finally gave up.

"My wife and I just decided that we'll just do the best we can without it, so we just dropped it. It was just too frustrating and aggravating," Morris said.

However, the events of Sept. 11 changed that. When he heard questions being raised about how the Red Cross was distributing donated funds, he got irritated all over again and called Five on Your Side. Five On Your Side called the Red Cross. Spokeswoman Sherry Mitchell said the agency made a mistake in Morris' case.

"We don't understand either why the volunteer told him we were no longer doing that because, in fact today, we are still doing and providing that assistance," she said.

The Red Cross sent Morris a check for $880.

"I couldn't believe it, but I went straight to the bank and deposited it though. You can believe that," he said. "We were very thankful to get it. We really were."

Mitchell said the American Red Cross never closes out after a disaster. If there is a problem, she recommends that people call their local chapter or