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World Reaction to Hurricane Katrina

More than 90 countries and international organizations have offered aid and technical assistance to the victims of America’s worst natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, whose fury struck the Gulf Coast last week. But, the world’s initial reaction of sympathy and generosity has also been accompanied by growing criticism of the U.S. government’s response to the catastrophe.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States has not turned down any offers of aid and added she was deeply touched by tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka’s donation of $25,000.

Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Sri Lankan journalist Thalif Deen noted that his country was one of the first to pledge financial help. He called it a “gesture of the heart” because the United States and the Western world had responded so magnanimously when Sri Lanka was devastated by last December’s tsunami. But Mr. Deen noted that the U.S. government should have been prepared to meet the disaster, especially because the people in New Orleans had advance warning of the approach of the hurricane, unlike those engulfed by last year’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

The fate of the formerly French city of New Orleans, devastated by flooding when the levees broke last week, prompted a handwritten note of condolence from French President Jacques Chirac, one of Europe’s most outspoken critics of the U.S. administration. French journalist Philip Jelie of Le Figaro, who covered the destruction in New Orleans, said it was only “natural” that the Europeans offered help, even though the United States is “supposed to be a rich country.” And he called the release of European oil reserves a “gesture of solidarity.”

Dmitri Siderov, Washington bureau chief of Kommersant, a business and political daily in Moscow, said Russia’s official response was to offer planes with emergency medical equipment and personal. According to Mr. Siderov, Russians see some parallels between the Kremlin’s mismanagement of rescue operations during its 2000 Kursk submarine disaster and Washington’s slow initial response to the enormity of the suffering of Katrina’s victims, especially among New Orleans’ poorest citizens, many of whom were unable to flee the rising waters. Dmitri Siderov said he thinks President Bush made the “same mistake” that Russian President Vladimir Putin did when he decided not to interrupt his vacation and go immediately to the submarine base near where the Kursk had been sunk. And the Russian press is now criticizing the Bush administration for “not responding properly” to Hurricane Katrina.

Venezuelan journalist Yvette Saez said her government has been both generous with its financial aid to the U.S. hurricane victims and liberal in its criticism of the Bush administration. And she echoed President Hugo Chavez’ question, “How many thousands died who could have been evacuated?” if only the U.S. government had planned more realistically, knowing that New Orleans was a city below sea level.

The floodwaters have begun to recede in New Orleans after repairs to levees earlier this week, but authorities warn that thousands of bodies may be found in the hurricane-affected Gulf Coast area. Both President Bush and Senate lawmakers have promised separate investigations into the government’s initial response to the devastation.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.