World offers help to stricken US

The United States officially asked for emergency aid from the European Union and accepted assistance from the United Nations. Countries throughout the world pledged help for thousands left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

While US President George W. Bush initially refused offers of aid, the White House reversed course as the magnitude of the destruction wreaked across an area of the US Gulf Coast the size of Great Britain became clear.

Some countries suffering major problems of their own, among them Indonesia and Afghanistan, were among those lining up to offer help to the nation that is the world's largest donor of aid.

Washington has asked the 25-member EU for aid in the form of blankets, medicines, water and half a million food rations, the European Commission said in a statement.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said France would send its entire stock of emergency supplies, including tents, blankets, cooking equipment and camp-beds, prepositioned on the French Caribbean island of Martinique for just such an eventuality.

Britain was to send 500,000 military ration packs to the devastated regions, the ministry of defence said Sunday.

The armed forces meal boxes -- which include a 24-hour food supply -- will be flown to the US early Monday to help feed the homeless.

Germany shipped 25 tonnes of food aid to the flood-stricken regions over the weekend, the defence ministry said Sunday.

An Italian military plane was expected to leave Sunday for the United States with first aid kits for 15,000 people, as well as infant food, blankets, pumps, water-purifying devices and inflatable rafts.

The United States also accepted an offer of UN assistance and consultations were underway on how to best complement US aid efforts, a UN spokesman said Sunday.

"The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the High Commissioner for Refugees are ready to provide emergency staff and a wide variety of relief supplies as and when necessary," the spokesman said a statement.

Kuwait is offering 500 million dollars in oil products "needed by the afflicted states in these conditions and other humanitarian assistance," Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah told the official KUNA news agency on Sunday.

Qatar had pledged 100 million dollars on Sunday.

Canada said Sunday it was sending thousands of camp-beds, blankets and medical supplies after a request from Washington for help.

Cuba and Venezuela, two Latin American countries often singled out for criticism by administration of US President George W. Bush, were among the first to offer humanitarian assistance, the AFP reports.

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