Jammed phone line, delays for British Columbians trying to access Red Cross relief

·3 min read
A house in Princeton, B.C. is emptied out by volunteers on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 in the aftermath of major flooding. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
A house in Princeton, B.C. is emptied out by volunteers on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 in the aftermath of major flooding. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

The Canadian Red Cross says some British Columbians may have had trouble accessing their relief line due to a high volume of calls.

The Red Cross and the province of British Columbia have partnered to offer $2,000 to British Columbians who were ordered to evacuate their homes from Nov. 14 to 16 due to flooding. This is in addition to the Disaster Financial Assistance funding announced previously.

To access these supports, evacuated British Columbians need to register with the Red Cross by calling 1-800-863-6582, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. PT.

But many, like Beth Goulet-Hillier who was evacuated out of Merritt on Nov. 15, have had trouble accessing the hotline.

Beth Goulet-Hillier
Beth Goulet-Hillier

"I started calling two days ago," said Goulet-Hillier. "Sometimes it just didn't even ring, and other times it would start ringing and just disconnect."

Goulet-Hillier said she had spent at minimum four and half hours calling the line on Wednesday.

"It was just disheartening."

Melanie Nielsen evacuated the Sumas Prairie with her partner, two daughters, two dogs, a cat and some pet birds.

They're staying with friends of friends in Chilliwack but could use relief funds for food and supplies to start cleaning up and repairing their flood-ravaged home.

It took her eight hours to reach the Red Cross by phone, only to leave her most basic information like her name and address. She says she still has no idea if or when she will get any relief funds.

"So, yeah, it has been a little bit frustrating," Nielsen said.

Melanie Nielsen
Melanie Nielsen

Pat Quealey, the vice president of the B.C. and Yukon chapter of the Canadian Red Cross, said operators were overwhelmed with calls.

"We recognize the frustration involved. We did experience an overwhelming response," Quealey said on CBC's On The Coast.

Quealey said some of the volume was because British Columbians who wanted to donate money were calling the same line.

He says those who wish to help can visit the British Columbia Floods and Extreme Weather Appeal online at redcross.ca, call the dedicated donation line at 1-800-418-1111, or text BCFLOODS to 30333.

No cut-off date: Farnworth

Mike Farnworth, B.C.'s minister of public safety, asked people for patience.

"We are absolutely aware of this situation and we have been in contact with the Red Cross about this. I know they are working on that. I do urge people to be patient," he said.

"People should not feel they need to get on right now and if they don't apply they're not going to get the $2,000. There is not a cut-off date and I can tell you the Red Cross is working on that situation."

Quealey said the funds will go to anyone who was on the evacuation lists provided by Emergency Management B.C., and that generous donations from Canadians were key in making the funds available.

"We're very grateful for everyone's contributions. It helps us with that immediate response," he said.

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