Monday, September 05, 2005


Europe comes to New Orleans' aid with everything from oil to university spots

Friday, September 02, 2005
By Danica Kirka, Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria - As the enormity of what happened in America sinks in, Europeans have been increasingly moved to help in ways great and small: from an Austrian university considering taking in 500 students from New Orleans to nations offering to tap into strategic oil reserves.

Amid the compassion, there is also surprise that America was so vulnerable and unprepared, and dismay that the Bush administration downplays the global warming threat that so many Europeans tend to link to the force and frequency of such storms.

Across the continent, the media and governments focused on the enormity of the disaster with newspapers running huge pictures of victims wading chest-deep in water and television screens filled with fires leaping from the still waters of flooded avenues.

The French daily Liberation described the scenes of devastation as a cruel spectacle for U.S. President George W. Bush, "the champion of security." Criticizing the "disorder" in the evacuation of hospitals, the editorial described Hurricane Katrina as s "natural disaster with political implications'

Terror mastermind and avowed enemy of the U.S. Osama "Bin Laden must be dying of laughter," Liberation wrote, adding that, "It will take a long time to erase the cracks now appearing on the face of America."

In Italy, several newspapers said mounting criticism of the president's handling of the relief effort was damaging his credibility.

Germany's Die Tageszeitung said the world was "seeing scenes otherwise only known in African capitals. The forces of order are absent. Anarchy and chaos reign. Supermarkets are plundered, helicopters shot at."

Some said perceived U.S. indifference to global warming was coming home to roost. "What's absent is a debate over the climate, over Kyoto, over the human-caused warming of the earth," wrote Stefan Kornelius in an editorial in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a Munich-based daily. "But the oil shortage caused by the disaster will hurt Bush more than gaps in climate policy will."

Concrete offers of help, though, were louder than the criticism. Spurred by images of people huddled on curbs begging for clean water and chaotic rescue efforts from rooftops, Europe offered brainpower -- specialists in coordinating disasters, experts in rebuilding devastated communities and rescue workers familiar with risky maneuvers.

The U.N. created a special task force to dispatch disaster experts; the European Union volunteered to send water supply specialists.

Italy offered two military transport planes loaded with pumps, generators, amphibious crafts and tents. Germany pledged medical supplies. France dispatched rescue workers to determine what it could offer. NATO pledged its help, too.

In the Balkans, where the U.S. military has been deployed to keep the peace following a decade of conflict, there were offers steeped in gratitude. A Bosnian television station offered to raise money. In Kosovo, a civil emergency unit made up of former ethnic Albanian rebels offered to send a team to help rebuild.

Elswhere, Asia-Pacific nations -- including tsunami-battered Sri Lanka pledged money and disaster relief experts.

"There should not be an assumption that because America is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, this isn't a major challenge and a major crisis," Australian Prime Minister John Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

El Salvador, the only Latin American country with troops still in Iraq, offered Thursday to send soldiers to the United States to help police zones flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

The proposal to take in 500 students from New Orleans at the University of Innsbruck for the winter semester was more personal. The two universities, both in cities that boast rich cultural histories, have spent decades building bonds of friendship and community.

"We don't think of the (victims) as Americans -- we think of them as our friends who live in America," said Mathias Schennach, who heads the Austrian university's international relations office. "People here have an open heart for Americans, especially for the people of New Orleans."

The two universities have exchanged students in summer programs for three decades, placing hundreds of students per year, largely in business studies. Many of the program's alumni have offered to assist, Schennach said.

The offer came only days after the western province of Tyrol suffered severe flooding of its own.

"People here have cold winters and avalanches -- so we are familiar with the dangers of nature," Schennach said. "There is an understanding that if someone is need, you help."

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