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On Katrina, Europeans extend help, criticism

As the enormity of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath sinks in, Europeans have offered a range of help — from offering places for university students displaced by the disaster, to agreeing to tap into strategic oil reserves.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As the enormity of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath sinks in, Europeans have been moved to help in ways great and small: from an Austrian university proposing to take in 500 students from New Orleans, to nations agreeing to tap into strategic oil reserves.

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

Across the continent, the media and governments focused on the tragedy, with newspapers running photos of victims wading chest-deep in water and television screens filled with fires.

The French daily Liberation described the scenes of devastation as a cruel spectacle for President Bush, “the champion of security.” Criticizing the disorder in the evacuation of hospitals, the editorial called Hurricane Katrina a “natural disaster with political implications.” Terror mastermind Osama bin Laden “must be dying of laughter,” it said.

Astonishment at ‘anarchy and chaos’
In Italy, several newspapers said mounting criticism of Bush’s handling of the relief effort was damaging his credibility. And 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,” said 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. The governments of 26 countries agreed Friday to release the equivalent of 2 million barrels of oil per day from strategic fuel reserves to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the International Energy Agency said.

'No offer ... will be refused'
With offers from the four corners of the globe pouring in, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided “no offer that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the afflicted area will be refused,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday.

However, in Moscow, a Russian official said the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had rejected a Russian offer to dispatch rescue teams and other aid.

Spurred by images of people huddled on curbs begging for clean water and chaotic rescue efforts from rooftops, Europe also offered brainpower — specialists in coordinating disaster relief, experts in rebuilding devastated communities and rescue workers familiar with risky maneuvers.

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

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

Offers from the Balkans, Sri LankaIn the Balkans, where the U.S. military has been deployed to keep the peace following a decade of conflict, offers were 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.

Elsewhere, 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 French city of Orleans also rallied to help its hurricane-hit American namesake. The city south of Paris planned to donate money raised from ticket sales at local sports matches to help hurricane victims in New Orleans, a statement from City Hall said Friday. Orleans and its university also offered to take in 50 students from the University of New Orleans for the school year.

University offers
The proposal to take in 500 students from New Orleans at the University of Innsbruck in Austria 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.

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, said Mathias Schennach, who heads the Austrian university’s international relations office.

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 in need, you help.”