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Katrina Foreign Aid Handling Generates Criticism

Another controversy is brewing over how the Bush administration handled recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina -- this time over foreign assistance in the wake of the disaster. Recently released government documents show that while countries offered nearly one billion dollars in aid following the 2005 storm, relatively little has reached the disaster victims, because the government had no plan to handle the assistance. VOA's Bill Rodgers reports.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest and costliest storms in U.S. history. And the scenes of devastation moved many foreign governments and organizations to immediately offer money and other assistance to help with the recovery efforts.

But most of this aid never reached the victims, and a Washington advocacy group says government documents reveal it was because of negligence or bureaucratic red tape.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics, provided one example. "One of the most disturbing e-mails we saw was one about some Italian medical supplies which actually were not used properly and they went bad and could no longer be used."

At a Senate appropriations hearing Thursday, featuring U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu raised the issue.

"Of the 854 million, 454 million was cash, 400 million was oil which has yet to be sold for cash,” said the senator. ”To date, only 126.4 million has been received, numerous materials in kind were turned away and, as I say, 400 million in oil was never accepted or sold, we don't know where those barrels of oil are."

In addition to the $400 million in oil donated by Kuwait, Greece offered to provide two cruise ships for displaced residents. But the offer was refused even though the federal government spent millions leasing from Carnival Cruise Lines ships. And there were other instances of aid offers not used for recovery efforts.

Secretary Rice said in response to the criticism, "It is important for our partners to know that a lot of their donations were used, and used well for the people. Sixty-six million dollars to finance social service management for Katrina, 60 million for the Department of Education, and yes, we had to turn down some donations, medical equipment, a lot of it was in kind -- for instance, medical personnel who would not have been licensed in our country to practice."

But this did not satisfy Senator Landrieu, who represents Louisiana -- where flooding from Katrina inundated much of New Orleans.

"One billion approximately was offered -- we've received 126 million. There was a lot of money left on the table and the people of the Gulf Coast deserve to have a better system. But more than just the people of the Gulf Coast, this country deserves to have a better system in the event this happens again," said Landrieu.

The Democratically-controlled Congress plans to hold hearings specifically on this issue later this year.