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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Harry Thomas
Executive Secretary of the U.S. Department of State

September 12, 2005

Harry Thomas
Good afternoon. We at the State Department, join all Americans in thanking the international community for the outpouring of assistance now arriving from across the globe by air, land and sea to the recovery efforts. As of today, 117 countries and 12 international organizations have offered or sent money, food, vital supplies and technical assistance. These generous offers will do much to alleviate the human suffering caused by the destructive hurricane and its aftermath. Even more than the actual material support, we appreciate the goodwill that has generated these offers. The American people have a long tradition of extending a hand to those in need. Now, in our time of need, we are deeply touched to see the response of people from every corner of the world.

Tom, from Syracuse, NY writes:
Have other countries offered aid for recovery from this disaster and how does the US utilize foreign-provided aid?How can volunteer firefighters from around the nation use their training to help in the affected area?

Harry Thomas
Tom, the State Department is working closely with Homeland Security, FEMA, Health and Human Services, our military, state and local agencies to speed aid to those most in need. Some new offers include:

  • France’s 17 divers
  • Tunisia’s 20 tons of relief supplies that have landed in Little Rock
  • Bangladesh’s offer of $1 million to the US government

You may have seen the Mexicans drive personnel over the border who cooked and served hot meals to those affected by Katrina or the 94 German and five Luxembourgers working to pump water out of New Orleans.

I must caution that some of the airports closest to the affected areas are facing a backlog of inbound planes bringing relief supplies and workers. With 117 countries offering assistance, we ask for patience as disaster assessment experts determine what is needed now and establish priorities.

Mike, from Hannover, Germany writes:
Why isnt there a special order or personel to increase the speed of getting foreign help trough to the Disaster areas to overcome the bureuacratic hindrances and save valuable time?With best wishes for the Victims and Helpers, Mike

Harry Thomas
Mike, to bolster both our efforts to assist foreign consular personnel and coordinate the distribution of donated resources, Secretary Rice ordered the establishment of an office in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – called State South for short. State South is headed by Ambassador Joe Sullivan, who, until Hurricane Katrina struck, had been the Diplomat in Residence at Tulane University in New Orleans. Ambassador Sullivan, who has over 30 years of service to the U.S. Government, has volunteered to head State South. We have sent an additional eight Foreign Service personnel fluent in Vietnamese south to help those communities re-establish themselves. USAID has over 50 volunteers working with FEMA and the military to speed assistance delivery. In fact, two USAID employees offloaded the first two planes carrying relief supplies from France.

Jennifer, from Philadelphia, PA writes:
It is gratifying to note that many other countries have offered aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Would it be appropriate for individual citizens to express their thanks? If so, would we do that via communication with the countries' embassies in Washington? And, finally, is there a list of those helpful neighbors? Thank you.

Harry Thomas
Jennifer, that is a great question. I don’t have the complete list in front of me and we are grateful for all offers but here are some examples:

  • Andorra has offered 1000 bed sheets, 1000 pillows, medical kits and other supplies
  • The Bahamas has offered a cash donation of $50,000
  • The Republic of Korea has offered two tons of diapers and other supplies as part of the many items it is willing to send
  • Egypt has offered 6,000 blankets and supplies
  • A local school in Medan, Indonesia has offered 25,000 in local currency
  • Malaysia and Pakistan have each offered $ 1 million to the Red Cross
  • Namibia has offered $100,000 worth of supplies
  • Thailand has delivered rice.
  • Most touching is the story of the 78 year old Slovenian woman, who was liberated from Auschwitz by American forces and nursed back to health in an American hospital. This woman wanted to help Americans in distress and gave our Embassy 1,000 Euros ($1,241 US dollars) to assist those affected by Katrina.

Carl, from Florida writes:
Why can we not accept the world's help? Several countries are waiting on us to tell them where to send the aid to. Not to acknowledge that seems to be arrogant or perhaps show a weak facet of our governement. There are several reports of planes load with donations anxiosuly waiting to come to the USA. Let's either thank them for their gesture or direct them as to where to send their donations to

Harry Thomas
Carl, in fact gifts in various forms from all over the world are pouring in to the U.S., including cash assistance. Twenty-seven planes with relief supplies from abroad have arrived at a central distribution point in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Jacob, from Florida writes:
Why is most of the aid that could have been very beneficial in the start of this crisis still sitting in their countries of origin? And why was the response on the Federal level so slow if we knew Katrina would strike and cause this damage many days prior to when it happened?

Harry Thomas
Jacob, as I mentioned to an earlier question, we have a 24 hour task force dedicated to matching offers of assistance to needs as determined by FEMA and local officials. Planeloads of assistance have been landing in Little Rock on a daily basis from all parts of the globe. The assistance is flowing.

John, from New York writes:
First of all, thank you for giving us a little bit of your time in this sad period. A vast international coalition is set up to help the United States with the help of the populations disaster victims. How the foreign medical aid on the ground with the local medical means is organized ? I've been told that the firemen sent by France were driven back by the authorities. Do you have information on this subject? I do thank you again for your attention and for your kind answers ?

Harry Thomas
John, France has also been an outstanding partner in this effort offering a wide range of assistance. A team of expert divers is, I believe on its way to help, as just one example. I am not aware of the incident you mentioned.

Andres, from Canada writes:
Mr. Thomas, Is the US goverment going to accept the medical aid offered by Cuba? I understand that some sectors of the medical community in the US believe that this aid is needed in the Hurricane affected area, and it would be much appreaciated. Thanks.

Harry Thomas
Andres, there have been numerous offers of medical assistance from around the world in response to the tragedy. In particular we have had many offers for medical personnel to deploy in the United States. As you know, we have licensing requirements (controlled by each state) as you have in Canada for practicing medical personnel. The American medical community is performing a Herculean job to attend to the needs of our people.

caesar, from Enugu-Nigeria writes:
Thanks for this previledge to be in touch with the white House. We are all affected by this tragedy. I had made this offer previously-the immediate past breifing held september 8,2005. I am director for Maranatha Covenanat Foundation An international NGO,we earnestly desire to assit in rebuilding the broken 'desolations'. We want to constitute a team of highly efficient and effective sound Christains who are Architects,Structural engeneers and a few masons.A compact team of (50) persons.Can you reach me so that we open discussins? God Bless America.

Harry Thomas
Caesar, we deeply appreciate the outpouring of empathy and concern for those affected by this tragedy. Many private groups such as yours are reaching out to colleagues in the United States to work out mechanisms to assist and respond to both the material and spiritual need of those deeply affected. We thank you for this offer.

Shehzad, from Saint Louis, Missouri, USA writes:
Congratulations, Mr. Harry Thomas for outstanding career and service. As a President of a small non-profit Gateway Consortium Foundation working for the inception of International Teachers Hall of Fame, how can we help Hurricane Relief Efforts by helping volunteer nurses and doctors from other countries. We are interested in launching a movement for doctors and nurses from South Asian countries.

Harry Thomas
Shezad, I thank you for your generous offer. I suggest you work with other NGOS involved in international medical assistance whom, I am sure would welcome this initiative.

kevin, from Seattle, WA writes:
Since Hurricane Katrina hit more the 90 countries have offered assistance to the U.S. but many are now complaining They cannot get the various U.S. govt Agencies to work together to respond. (for example: Sweden has C-130's ready to fly in mobile water purification systems, they say there application for landing approval is delayed by the State dept).. New Skys offered mobile celluar system and the U.S Air Force JTF Katrina Command center called them back and said "yes send it" but as of 97 State dept has not recieved formal paperwork and will not approve landing rights so the plans have been sitting on the runways for 5days) there are several other examples I could give I understand the need to not accept random Aid they may not be used and to organize things, I also understand Federal employees are extrememly busy. My question is what is the State dept doing to streamline this process so Aid can flow in as quickly as possible. and can the President sign executive orders to remove some of the "Beaurecratic RED TAPE" and is thier a "single point of contact" for foreign goverments to contact.? one foreign govt said they contacted thier State dept country desk, thier local U.S. Embassy, FEMA, Whitehouse, various senators and it took 4days to get a reply.

Harry Thomas
Kevin, I am pleased to have the opportunity to dispel rumors and clarify the record. The State Department has a 24 hour Task Force working around the clock to accept, distribute and match the global officers of assistance. We opened an office in Baton Rouge to assist victims. We have established an inter-agency system to streamline offers and match them to needs. We have helped the Consulates General in New Orleans to locate their nationals and secure their facilities. We have secured our US Government Passport Agency in New Orleans. We are doing everything possible to help those who have been affected by Katrina. While we are pleased to learn that colleges from Texas Southern to Holy Cross have taken in displaced students, we have also worked with colleges, including Baldwin-Wallace, to accept displaced foreign students. The next time someone tells you that federal employees are part of the log jam, remind them of the two USAID employees who worked by themselves to unload two French planes carrying relief supplies. And we expect the cellular phones donated by Sweden to land soon in Arkansas.

Betty, from Luther, MI writes:
Why can't we forget politics and governmental choices during this time and accept aid from all foreign countries offering help? This is an ideal time to begin the process of mending relations.

Harry Thomas
Betty, I think Hurricane Katrina demonstrates that we do not have to mend relations. The outpouring of international aid, both governmental and private, demonstrates that there are ties that bind countries beyond politics. The ties are strong and will help rebuild our cities and communities.

Joanna, from Germany writes:
Hello Mr.Thomas,I wonder why you don't want help like packets with food from germany. Thank you

Harry Thomas
Joanna, Germany is standing shoulder to shoulder with us and is currently helping pump out the water in New Orleans, a huge undertaking. We have received and accepted food items from Germany as well but I want to note that Germany has offered many forms of assistance and we are working to match the offers with the needs of the people.

john, from ontario canada writes:
Has Canada helped enuff? Or should we push our govt to offer more help?

Harry Thomas
John, Canada has been a tremendous partner in this tragedy as it was in the wake of 9/11. We have received all forms of assistance including helicopters, search and rescue teams, supplies, ships and other donations. We are working side by side with Canada in this disaster as befits neighbors.

Jingyun, from Wuhan,China writes:
I'm a Chinese people,from TV I saw the disaster in New Orlean,the whole city was flooded by water and people lost their homes,many people even lost their lives.I want to contribute something to help those who need help,but I dont't know how Ican do it.How does the American government receive aid from abroad?

Harry Thomas
Jingyun, Thanks for your interest in assisting us. The United States Government is receiving assistance from many foreign governments. We are suggesting that individuals who wish to contribute do through a non-governmental organization of their choosing. There are many, such as the Red Cross, which operate in the United States.

Visit the State Department web site at and click on "How to Help" for concise information on how to assist.

albert, from melbourne writes:
how much Australian government has promised to give so far for katrina victims ?

Harry Thomas
Albert, Australia has donated over $ 7.6 million U.S. Dollars to the Red Cross and has offered a wide array of emergency management experts. Australia is part of what is truly a global effort to help Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Equally impressive is Sri Lanka’s role in helping us out. The Secretary spoke of how grateful she was to Sri Lanka for its donation of $25,000. Sri Lanka was devastated by the December 2004 Tsunami, received assistance from the American people and despite its ongoing struggle to recover from that disaster, found a way to help Katrina victims with a cash donation.

Harry Thomas
Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I wish I could have answered them all. Secretary Rice was deeply moved during her recent visit to Alabama where she was able to worship at the Pilgrim Rest AMEZ Church and visit affected citizens and the many volunteers of all races and faiths at the Bayou La Batre Community Center. The Secretary and her colleagues here at State working are working to help our fellow citizens. We are determined to demonstrate that we can provide the same timely and effective assistance to Americans that we are often called on to give to foreigners when disaster strikes.

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