UN, Foreign Governments Offer Post-Hurricane Help

NEW YORK, New York, September 2, 2005 (ENS) - The top United Nations emergency relief official has offered the United States the world body’s help in “any way possible” following the loss of life and destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast.

The offer was made in a letter Wednesday to U.S. Ambassador John Bolton from UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, who led the global aid effort after the Indian Ocean tsunami last December.

It is usually the United States that provides disaster relief to other nations in their time of need. Now it is the United States that is in need, and the offers of assistance are flowing in.

destruction

Hurricane Katrina smashed homes into rubble in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. (Photo by Gene Dailey courtesy American Red Cross)
Egeland has been encouraging donors to contribute to nongovernmental organizations active in helping the hurricane victims. The UN Staff Unions in New York and Geneva are working to raise money for hurricane survivors.

The magnitude of the hurricane's impact is only now beginning to emerge, with a disaster zone of 56,000 square miles declared and a mounting death toll that could reach into the thousands.

At first, U.S. officials, while thanking the United Nations for its offer, did not request any assistance.

But Thursday, U.S. officials indicated they are open to all offers as dozens of foreign governments lined up to pledge assistance.

Secretary Condoleeza Rice, after consulting with the White House, "has made it clear that we will accept all offers of foreign assistance," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

"Anything that can be of help to alleviate the difficult situation, the tragic situation, of the people of the area affected by Hurricane Katrina will be accepted," McCormack said.

"America should be heartened by the fact that the world is reaching out to America at a time of need."

As of Thursday the countries and international organizations willing to help include - Russia, Japan, Canada, France, Honduras, Germany, Venezuela, the Organization of American States, Jamaica, NATO, Australia, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, China, South Korea, Israel and the United Arab Emirates."

The list of countries offering assistance is "growing literally by the hour," McCormack said.

The Australian government today announced a donation of A$10 million to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The funds will go to the American Red Cross which is at the forefront of assisting those displaced and left homeless by the tragedy.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said, "The United States is so often at the forefront of international aid efforts to help less fortunate nations. So it is only fitting that Australia should contribute to the daunting task of helping the thousands of American citizens whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by this unprecedented disaster."

Offers of assistance made by foreign governments are sent by the State Department to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security. Theses agencies look at what the offers are, what the capabilities of those foreign countries are and match them up against needs, McCormack explained.

destruction

Railcars and containers lie scattered by Hurricane Katrina at the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Governments have offered boats, aircraft, tents, blankets, generators, and cash assistance, and McCormack said an offer of energy assistance from Venezuela was made through Citgo, which is a U.S. subsidiary of the Venezuelan Government National Oil Company.

Singapore has sent three Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) CH-47 Chinook helicopters from its Peace Prairie detachment in Grand Prairie, Texas, to assist in relief operations. The helicopters arrived Thursday afternoon at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where they will work with the Texas Army National Guard.

On Wednesday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed his sympathy for Katrina’s victims. "I hope, in the coming weeks, all will be done to provide support for those who need it,” he said.

“There has to be effective coordination in these efforts," Annan said. "And I think efforts are being made to ensure that assets are in place and effective coordination is organized because without that, it is going to be very, very difficult to get urgent help to all those who need it, and to help them rebuild."

Hurricane Katrina first made landfall on August 25, bringing heavy winds and torrential rain to South Florida. Katrina strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane before striking the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and sweeping through Alabama and Mississippi on Monday.

Earlier this week, Sálvano Briceño, director of the Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, called for more systematic prevention and mitigation measures worldwide, observing that the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and recent deadly floods in Central Europe and Switzerland prove that anyone can be affected, any day, anywhere by natural disaster.