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20 of the Most Inspiring Red Cross Rescues

The Red Cross has been coming to the rescue of those in need since 1863. We found photos of some of their most remarkable rescues and relief efforts.

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The founding of the Red Cross

The Red Cross, a global humanitarian network that provides assistance to victims of disasters, health crises, and armed conflict (without regard to which side a victim happens to be on), was founded in Switzerland in 1863. Red Cross volunteers, pictured above, offer assistance to both the French and the Prussians during the Battle of Gravelotte in France in 1870. Before you donate blood to the Red Cross, here’s what you should know.

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The Red Cross in America

The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton on May 21, 1881. Since 1900, it’s been tasked by the federal government with providing rescue and other assistance to members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, as well as disaster relief, throughout the world. Pictured here is a drawing depicting a fire rescue in London during the late 19th century.

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Johnstown Flood of 1889

In the Red Cross’s first international response effort, 50 brave and selfless volunteers of the American branch, led by Clara Barton, were on hand to help the victims of the massive flood that ensued after a dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania failed on May 31, 1889, taking the lives of 2,209 people. The rescue and relief attracted Red Cross volunteers and donations from 19 different countries. Find out about more natural disasters you never realized happened in the United States.

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Royal support for the Red Cross

During World War I, Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Tsar Nicholas of Russia, was deeply dedicated to her volunteer work on behalf of the Red Cross and encouraged a passion for caring for the wounded in her daughters as well. Pictured here, the Tsarina and her two eldest daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, are assisting in the surgery of a wounded soldier in 1915.

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Canines providing comfort

In addition to empresses and grand duchesses, the Red Cross was assisted during World War I by canine volunteers. Here’s one pulling an ambulance-cart in France. Here’s how to keep your pet safe during a natural disaster.

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The Southern California Flood of 1938

Colliding weather systems in Southern California in late March 1938 killed at least 100 people and destroyed the homes and property of countless. But the Red Cross was on hand. Here they’re rescuing a family of 12 in Venice, California.

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Nobel Peace Prize-worthy efforts

During World War II, the Red Cross’s inspiring efforts earned the Red Cross its second Nobel Peace Prize (the first was won in 1917) in 1944. Pictured here is Jane Steward, a volunteer from the American Red Cross who is comforting a wounded French soldier in Brittany, France by helping him to light a cigarette. (This practice would be questionable today.) A third Nobel Peace Prize was won by the Red Cross in 1963. Check out these moving quotes about peace from world leaders.

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Industrial disaster relief

The Red Cross was on hand to rescue and relieve those injured in the Texas City Disaster of 1947. The disaster, which started with the explosion of a French ship in the city’s harbor on April 16, 1947, is still the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Here, a volunteer hands out coffee and cigarettes to victims. Find out the one thing these survivors of natural disasters wish they’d done to prepare.

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Red Cross workers need rescue too

Pictured here is a Red Cross worker being rescued after being shot during a battle between U.N. forces and Katanga rebels during the Congo Revolution of 1961, which you may not know was actually a “proxy” conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. It began after the Congo declared itself independent of Belgium. Here are 10 more tricky U.S. war history questions no one ever gets right.

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Helping the innocent victims of war

In another horrible episode that took place during the political upheaval in the 1960s, the Republic of Biafra seceded from Nigeria in 1967 only to be attacked by Nigerian government forces five weeks later. When peace efforts stalled, Biafra lost its oil fields. Since oil was Biafra’s main source of revenue, the nation began starving to death; a million people died of malnutrition. Here Red Cross doctors tend to a very sick child in a Biafra hospital.

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The collision of two jumbo jets over Spain

On March 27, 1977, two planes collided in the fog over Spain, killing nearly 600 people. The Red Cross was there to search for survivors and recover personal belongings amid the wreckage. If this makes you worried about plane crashes, here’s how to survive one.

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The Vietnamese boat people’s earliest journey

When the West German government accorded refugee status to hundreds of Vietnamese people who had arrived by boat in Hanover (these were the first of the Vietnamese “boat people” of the time), the Red Cross was there to provide not only medical assistance but also comfort in the form of blankets. They also held spectators at bay.

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Helping during the Cambodian crisis

Things in Vietnam only got worse after the boat people began taking refuge outside of Asia. In 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, approximately 260,000 Cambodians were displaced, many of them sick, maimed, and/or dying from disease and injury. The Red Cross was there, helping the sick and helping to reconstruct the country. Find out some ways you can really help after a natural disaster.

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Rescue in the face of risk

In 1983 Beirut, Lebanon, following the suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy by Jihad terrorists (killing 63, including 17 Americans), no one was safe, and certainly not the Red Cross workers who were there to help in any way they could. Here a U.S. Marine stands guard as Red Cross rescue workers search the rubble of the fallen embassy.

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Bringing rescue in the form of vaccination

After a storm devastated the island of Uri Char in Bangladesh in May 1985, the Red Cross was there to vaccinate the survivors against cholera as well as typhoid, a disease that can be deadly. For those that didn’t survive, the Red Cross was there to help the living bury their loved ones. Read these 24 emotional stories of the kindness of strangers that will renew your faith in humanity.

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A long and dangerous journey

In 1991, an unusually high number of Haitian refugees began flooding the United States. Many were confined at Guantanamo Bay and ended up being shipped back to Port-au-Prince. That’s where the Red Cross came in to help the sick and injured refugees after their long journey.

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The Kosovo effort at the turn of the millennium

Between 1998 and 2001, the Red Cross tended to tens of thousands of refugees from the conflict that occurred when Yugoslavia began attempting to colonize Kosovo. They provided not only first aid and other medical assistance but also assistance in constructing homes and schools (and providing teachers), feeding the hungry, and helping to support the growth of a safer and more stable community. Here’s another heartwarming story about human kindness helping refugees.

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Measles outbreaks, Tacloban, Philippines

Along with UNICEF, the Red Cross has saved countless children from the ravages of polio and measles through vaccination programs. One example is the vaccination program that followed the 2013 typhoon that ravaged the city of Tacloban in the Philippines.

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Rescuing cyclone victims in Zimbabwe

On March 19, 2019, Zimbabwe was ravaged by a devastating cyclone, killing as many as 200 people, although more than 100 are still missing and thousands displaced as a result of this natural disaster. The Red Cross was on hand to rescue the victims, get them to safe land, and tend to their injuries, both physical and emotional.

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Helping the fight against COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, the Red Cross has been providing COVID-19 safety tips and online courses to people, as well as offering resuscitation, CPR and first aid training to support health care and essential workers. The American Red Cross has also made a $720,000 contribution to international Red Cross efforts in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the Red Cross has kept up with providing emergency housing for people affected by natural disasters and house fires, as well as supporting community feeding efforts. Learn more about this amazing organization with these things the Red Cross wishes you knew.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.