Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Countries from Russia to Venezuela offered assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina yesterday but said they will wait to hear from the United States what is needed before they send the aid.

Sympathy and condolences also poured in from around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI prayed for those affected by the “tragic” hurricane, and Chinese President Hu Jintao expressed his “belief that the American people will definitely overcome the natural disaster and rebuild their beautiful homeland.”

In contrast, Islamic extremists found a cause for celebration, giving the storm the military rank “private” and suggesting in Internet chatter that Katrina had joined their jihad, or holy war. They also prayed that oil prices hit $100 a barrel this year.

The State Department welcomed both the willingness of foreign nations to help and their plans for coordination with the American federal and state governments.

It said it had received more than a dozen “offers of government assistance to aid in the search as well as reconstruction efforts.”

“We appreciate each and every one of them, and we are going to work in the coming days and weeks with foreign governments to see how we can best channel these offers of assistance,” spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The American Red Cross said it had heard from sister organizations in several countries, although aid is not expected for another couple of days.

“We’ve been in touch with national Red Cross societies, and they tell us that private citizens are inquiring about sending donations,” said Nadia Mitchem, an international disaster fundraising officer.

U.S. officials and foreign diplomats said the widely shared sense is that as the world’s richest country, the United States can cope with the aftermath of natural disasters and does not need help.

They said that was the reason for the lack of specific offers, although the European Union — as well as Britain, Germany and other individual members — informed President Bush and the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that they are ready to help with whatever is necessary.

“The United States has very good infrastructure and capabilities, so we’ll wait for them to ask for concrete assistance,” said Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig, spokeswoman for the German Embassy. “You don’t want to send in several helicopters and have only one landing space.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also said in a letter to Mr. Bush that his government “is prepared to provide help if requested.”

The most concrete offer came from Venezuela, which offered to send fuel and humanitarian aid to victims, despite otherwise strained relations with the United States.

A senior State Department official said he was not aware of Caracas’ proposal but noted that unsolicited offers can be “counterproductive.”

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