NEW YORK — The United Nations sent a team of emergency disaster specialists to Washington yesterday after the Bush administration began accepting some of the scores of offers of assistance pouring in from around the world.
The European Union said it was preparing to ship 500,000 meals, as well as blankets, 15 water trucks and 50,000 first-aid kits hours after receiving a formal request for assistance.
“We are and have been ready to contribute to the U.S. efforts aimed at alleviating the humanitarian crisis in New Orleans,” EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.
Canada said it was sending three dozen frogmen and assorted medical supplies. Kuwait said it has pledged oil and gasoline, and Britain said it is preparing tents and camp beds. NATO officials say they, too, will respond to a request for humanitarian assistance.
More than 55 countries have offered assistance to the United States in response to Hurricane Katrina, but U.S. officials have only just begun to respond with specific requests.
A European Commission spokeswoman said the European Union could have acted sooner if asked.
“If the request would have come earlier, we would have been very happy to act earlier,” Barbara Helfferich told Reuters news agency. “We have [had] no positive signals from the United States that they wanted help or needed help up to this stage.”
Britain, Germany, Spain and France have said individually that they were prepared to ship fuel to U.S. ports as part of a plan by the International Energy Agency to deliver 30 million barrels of crude oil and gasoline to the United States in the next month.
The State Department has set up a hurricane operations center within the U.S. Agency for International Development to coordinate offers of foreign assistance to the flood- and wind-ravaged Gulf region.
Kuwait, which benefited from the 1991 military intervention against Saddam Hussein, this weekend pledged a half-billion dollars in cash and in-kind assistance.
Kuwaiti Energy Minister Sheik Ahmad Fahd al-Ahmed al-Sabah said his country would provide “oil products that the disaster-stricken states need in addition to other humanitarian aid.”
He added: “It’s our duty as Kuwaitis to stand by our friends to lighten the humanitarian misery and as a payback for the many situations during which Washington helped us.”
The Kuwaiti gift is the largest so far, but not the only one from the region. The emir of Qatar has offered $100 million, while the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has urged all Arab nations to assist the United States.
Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday asked the Vatican’s relief agency, called Cor Unum, to coordinate assistance from Roman Catholics.
“We have all been pained in the last few days by the disaster caused by the hurricane in the United States of America, particularly in New Orleans,” he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.