A week ago this past Friday night, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, with winds topping 130 mph. The winds were devastating enough, but the real damage Harvey has inflicted, and continues to inflict, was due to the tremendous rainfall and flooding. A rain gauge near Highland, Texas, registered 51.88 inches of rain, breaking the record for the continental U.S.
Harvey meandered back and forth, making another landfall as a tropical storm Wednesday morning near Cameron, Louisiana, still dumping tremendous amounts of rain.
The National Hurricane Center warned of “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding,” and the National Weather Service called Harvey’s rainfall event “unprecedented.”
Private weather firm AccuWeather says Harvey could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history with the potential price tag of $160 billion. While much of the news coverage has focused on the devastation in the Houston area, the entire eastern Gulf Coast of Texas and Western Gulf Coast of Louisiana are seriously affected.
Typically, homeowners’ insurance covers damages from wind but not from floods. The Consumer Federation of America says about 80 percent of Hurricane Harvey victims have no flood insurance and face huge bills.
The needs of Hurricane Harvey victims are obvious, but already “storm chaser” scam artists are setting up bogus charities and crowdfunding appeals to “assist” them. If you’re looking for a way to give, please be cautious and make sure your donation gets to the people who need it most.
Here are some tips to assure your donations will get to those in need quickly and safely:
1. Be sure the charity has an on-the-ground presence in the impacted areas. Unless the charity already has staff in the affected areas, it may be difficult to bring in new aid workers to provide assistance quickly. See if the charity’s website clearly describes what the charity can do to address immediate needs.
2. Check to see if the charity is providing direct aid or raising money for other groups. Some charities may be raising money to pass along to relief organizations. If so, you may want to consider avoiding the middleman and giving directly to those that have a presence in the region.
3. Avoid gifts of clothing, food or other in-kind donations. In-kind drives for food and clothing, while well intentioned, may not necessarily be the quickest way to help those in need, unless the organization has the staff and infrastructure to distribute such aid properly.
4. Be cautious of crowdfunding. Some crowdfunding sites do very little vetting of individuals who decide to post for assistance after a disaster. If you decide to contribute via crowdfunding, it is probably best to give to people who you personally know.
5. Phases of disaster relief and recovery. The need for donations doesn’t stop when the headlines do. Remember, every disaster has several phases — rescue, emergency relief and recovery. For many communities, recovery will be a long-term activity that will take many months or years to accomplish. Each part relies on public support and continuing funding for success.
You can verify the trustworthiness of soliciting relief organizations by visiting Give.org to access free reports that specify if the charity meets the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability.
A few BBB Accredited Charities (organizations that meet the 20 BBB Standards for Charity Accountability) that are raising funds for Hurricane Harvey relief assistance include American Red Cross, AmeriCares, Houston Humane Society, Salvation Army, Save the Children and the United Way of Houston. A more complete list can be accessed by going to the Give.org website.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.