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Nearly 100 Countries Send Money, Assistance to US

Nearly 100 Countries Send Money, Assistance to U.S. Hurricane Victims

State Department working to match contributions with urgent needs

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington – The U.S. State Department is working with other U.S. government agencies to evaluate and distribute the nearly $1 billion in cash and assistance pouring into the United States from 95 countries around the world in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, department officials told the press September 7.

The hurricane and subsequent flooding have devastated parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and left thousands hungry and homeless.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are helping evaluate and channel ready-to-eat meals (MREs), rescue teams and other experts, medical supplies, tents, water purification units, beds, blankets, first aid kits, baby food, rafts and other supplies for the hungry, hurt and homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The greatest challenge we have is to match these generous offers with the needs of the American people,” State Department Executive Secretary Harry Thomas said during a September 7 press briefing.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice appointed Thomas to work with other government agencies to coordinate foreign offers of assistance and get the money and supplies to people in affected areas.

STATE DEPARTMENT TASK FORCE COORDINATING ASSISTANCE

To deal with the foreign offers of assistance, the State Department has a 24-hour task force that works closely with a task force established by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its subordinate organization the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Offers of equipment and help that cannot be used immediately are being deferred, Thomas said, until they are needed.

“Our job is to match offers with needs,” he added. “We’re not saying no to anyone. Every offer is being considered.”

Contributions range from $25,000 in cash from Sri Lanka – itself a victim of the deadly December 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami – to $100 million in cash and $400 million in crude oil from Kuwait.

Since September 5, supply planes have been landing in Little Rock, Arkansas, about 530 miles from New Orleans. The United Kingdom sent 11 planeloads of MREs and pallets, France sent three planeloads of MREs and supplies, and Italy sent two planes, one carrying supplies and another carrying an emergency team.

Contributions from other European countries were included in these supplies.

Russia, China, Spain and Israel sent planes loaded with MREs, relief supplies, tents, water purification units, kitchen units and medical supplies.

CASH CONTRIBUTIONS HANDLED IN VARIETY OF WAYS

The money coming in from foreign governments, foreign corporations and even individuals is being managed in several ways.

Many cash donations were given directly to nongovernment organizations such as the Red Cross. Some cash donations, Thomas said, have come directly to the State Department, OFDA, or the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

“We’re trying to decide rapidly, with the assistance of FEMA and USAID, how best to distribute that money,” he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a September 7 briefing that many stories were coming in from around the world about “individuals who are being very generous with the American people in our time of need.”

A 90-year-old person gave an envelope containing 1,000 euros to officials at an unnamed U.S. diplomatic mission. The money was contributed to help provide relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

“The explanation given for this donation,” McCormack said, “was that this person had been liberated from [a] concentration camp by American soldiers and then spent several months afterward being cared for by American medical personnel.

“It was this person's way of repaying this debt of over 60 years, to the American people,” he added.

In response to news reports about a Swedish C-130 transport plane that had been waiting on the ground for days for permission to bring relief supplies to the United States, McCormack said that was a single unfortunate case among many successful deliveries.

“We have reached back out to the Swedish government,” McCormack said, “and we have said thank you very much for your offer of assistance. We're going to look for a way to match what you have with a specific need.”

Given the complexity of this task, he added, “you have seen an extraordinary effort to get these items from thousands of miles overseas and get them to people in the United States to where they need them -- in to the shelters, to the affected areas.”

It’s a process that will continue, McCormack said.

“At the State Department we welcome all offers,” Thomas said. “This is generous ... it’s unprecedented. I think the American people should know and need to know that others are helping us in our time of need the way we help others.”

STATE DEPARTMENT ASSESSING CONDITIONS IN NEW ORLEANS

In his briefing, Thomas also addressed several points not specifically related to humanitarian aid.

Over the past two days, officials from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for those involved in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, traveled to New Orleans.

“They were able to visit and assess seven of New Orleans’ nine foreign consulates,” Thomas said. Two consulates, those of Japan and France, are still under water.

Also in New Orleans, the State Department's New Orleans Passport Agency is closed until further notice in the aftermath of the hurricane. The lower floors of the building have been vandalized, Thomas said, but the National Guard secured the building September 3.

All the passport documents, Thomas said, have been removed from the building.

“An equal concern,” he said, “is for 14 Americans who are among those who work for the passport agency. We still have not been able to contact [them] and we’re trying to find them.”

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