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
A convoy of vehicles from Mexico carrying humanitarian aid is led by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and U.S. Army personnel from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Thursday, September 8. The convoy, which is the first Mexican military unit to operate on U.S. soil since 1846, is headed to San Antonio to assist Hurricane Katrina victims. (© AP/WWP)
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
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
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
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
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
“It was this person's way of repaying
this debt of over 60 years, to the American people,”
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
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,
“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
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.”
For additional information, see Hurricane
of Thomas’ briefing is available on the State Department
Washington File Staff Writer