Global relief money pours into US

Former presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton received smiles, hugs and requests for autographs when they met evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

    Bill Clinton (L) and George HW Bush began raising funds

    But it was Bush's wife who got attention for some of her comments. Former first lady Barbara Bush, who accompanied the ex-presidents on a tour of the Astrodome complex on Monday, said the relocation to Houston is "working very well" for some of the poor people forced out of New Orleans.

    "What I am hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality," she said during a radio interview with the American Public Media programme Marketplace.

    "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."

    The two ex-presidents, who teamed up during a fund-raising effort for victims of last year's Asian tsunami, announced on Monday the creation of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

    The two former presidents launched their campaign as international aid commitments poured into the United States.

    International help

    From abroad, offers and commitments have flooded in from  55 countries, including  in recent days the Philippines, Iran, which is waiting for an official request from the US, the European Union, a regional charitable fund based in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Singapore, Thailand, Israel, the Czech Republic, Britain and Greece.

    Barbara Bush got attention for
    some of her comments 

    Clinton and Bush made the announcement of their fund in Houston, in the state of Texas that has taken an estimated 240,000 evacuees from last week's hurricane and ensuing flooding of New Orleans.

    They spoke not far from the Astrodome, where tens of thousands of evacuees are now living.

    The money raised in the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund will be turned over to state governors to use as they see fit, Clinton said.


    "The job is too big and too overwhelming for any one group," said Clinton.


    Clinton said that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail company, started the fund with a $20 million donation. It has also pledged to give work to all of its employees from the 20 outlets closed in the Gulf Coast region, in whatever town they end up in during the evacuation efforts.

    Storm victims are being evacuated to at least 20 states. Clinton, a Democrat, encouraged other large corporations to follow suit.

    The two former presidents made an unusually powerful bipartisan team in collecting millions of dollars in relief for victims of last year's South Asian tsunami.

    "What I am hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality"

    Barbara Bush,
    Former US first lady

    At the news conference, they sidestepped questions from reporters about growing criticism of the slow federal response to the tragedy.

    But Clinton later told Cable News Network that the government's reorganisation of disaster relief after the 2001 terrorist attacks clearly was not working. "My instinct is, it was better the way it was, and we should revisit that," he said.

    Investigation call

    Clinton called for a congressional investigation but said the focus should be on saving survivors and settling evacuees.

    He also advised Congress against repealing the estate tax, another move that would lessen government income as part of the Republican effort to downscale the federal government.

    Aid offered from abroad included:

    - Greece is sending two passenger ships to host evacuees over the next months and a special confrontation unit (EMAK) to help evacuate and transport stranded people.

    - Kuwait is donating $500 million in humanitarian aid, including $50 million in downstream oil products.

    - A 25-member Philippine humanitarian team was to be dispatched within the week and to include doctors, nurses, sanitary engineers and psychiatrists.

    - Iran offered help through the Red Crescent whenever it receives an official request from the US. Washington and Teheran have had no
    diplomatic relations for 26 years.

    Clinton called for investigation
    into the relief effort

    - Up to 13 European Union states have responded to US requests for help, as well as the bloc's Civil Protection Mechanism. Teams of medical, logistical, communication, search and rescue experts are being formed.

    Equipment is to include tents, blankets, water purification equipment, water pumps, meals and generators and transport. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom have responded.

    The US has also specifically asked the EU for first-aid kits, tankers and 500,000 meal rations.

    - A Saudi Arabia-based regional charitable fund is donating $250,000 to humanitarian relief to help children harmed by the disaster.

    - Singapore is sending three military Chinook helicopters to evacuate survivors.

    - Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej Monday indicated he would send unspecified amounts of Thai rice.

    - Israel is sending a rescue team of civil defence officials specialised in rescue operations and locating bodies, as well as food and equipment.

    - The Czech Republic has offered to send $1 million worth of supplies and medical, rescue and flood-control teams.

    The United States has historically been the world's largest donor
    to nations in need, but last week let it be known it would accept help from a variety of nations.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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