- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Foreign consular officials have taken to the streets of New Orleans and other Hurricane Katrina-stricken areas in boots and boats in search of more than 880 foreign nationals — most of them French and British — who are not yet accounted for, diplomats said yesterday.

Apart from the official numbers, Mexicans caught up in the storm were expected to be more numerous than any other nationality, but officials said it was difficult to locate them because many are in the United States illegally.

“We have guys who literally put people on boats. Some of those who haven’t been to Britain in years were surprised to see a consular official on their doorstep,” said Steve Atkins, spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington.

“We’ve had many success stories, and we provide the people we find with accommodations, medical assistance and Red Cross counseling,” he said, noting that the latest number of unaccounted for Britons was 96.

Nathalie Loiseau, spokeswoman for the French Embassy, said Tuesday that 160 French citizens were yet to be found. Yesterday, she said that 50 had been located, but the embassy had received new information about 10 French nationals who have yet to contact their families.

Both diplomats said that officials from their embassies and consulates in the United States were working round-the-clock in the affected areas looking for more people, including tourists, students, workers and U.S. residents.

Mr. Atkins said there were 50 Britons in New Orleans’ Superdome, but they are all safe.

Some of them have given interviews upon their return home to the London press, which has harshly criticized British officials in the United States for not getting to New Orleans earlier than Monday.

But U.S. and British diplomats said that Louisiana state officials did not allow consular officers into the city earlier, despite Britain’s request.

An official at the Mexican consulate in Houston said it was hard to come up with a number of missing Mexicans because many of them are not documented. He urged those who have not called families or friends to do so immediately.

Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig, spokeswoman for the German Embassy in Washington, declined to cite a number but said that, out of 70 Germans initially unaccounted for, “we’ve managed to trace all but a few.”

Five Swedes are still considered missing, said Claes Thorson, spokesman for the Swedish Embassy.

The State Department said that 883 foreign nationals had not been accounted for as of yesterday afternoon, based on numbers provided from various embassies in Washington.

“An equal concern is that 14 Americans who worked for the [New Orleans] Passport Agency we still have not been able to contact and we are trying to find them,” said Harry Thomas, the State Department’s executive secretary in charge of the agency’s relief effort.

Another State Department official said U.S. entry visa requirements have been waived for foreign government and international organizations officials coming to the United States for the relief effort.

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