Hurricane Aid Pours in ; from Sri Lanka to France, Emergency Relief Is Sent, but Tinged with Criticism of US Handling of the Disaster

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Governments around the world rushed aid and relief teams to America's stricken southern states on Monday - some repaying past favors the United States has offered them to recover from natural disasters - while their citizens continued to express amazement and dismay at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In a dramatic reversal of usual roles, small nations such as Sri Lanka - badly hit by last December's tsunami - have extended their hands to the most powerful country on earth. And after initial ambivalence, American officials were accepting offers of help from over 50 countries with thanks.

"My country needs a lot of help because it has suffered a catastrophe that has no historical parallel," US ambassador to Spain, Eduardo Aguirre, said in Madrid on Monday, after asking the Spanish government for generators, medical equipment, pumps, and oil. "The most important thing right now is to know that we have friends."

Even America's foreign friends, however, have been free with their criticism of the way the US authorities handled rescue and relief operations in New Orleans last week. Repeated TV images of bodies floating in the floodwaters, crowds of homeless people abandoned to their fate for days, and looters emptying shops have raised harsh questions in Europe about the nature of American society.

"America's dark underbelly has been laid bare," charged London's Daily Mail in a headline Saturday, above a commentary drawing attention to the way in which the large majority of flood victims are poor and black.

As the scale of the disaster that hit Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi became clear, and Washington reversed its earlier decision that it did not need foreign aid, its allies readied thousands of tons of emergency supplies and hundreds of millions of dollars to feed, shelter, and care for displaced Americans forced from their homes.

As part of a NATO plan, the British government has flown 500,000 military ration packs to the afflicted zone, while the German government has sent food and is readying a hospital ship in case it is needed.

The French Red Cross has dispatched 17 logistics experts, trained in food distribution, shelter management, and other emergency skills, along with thousands of "family kits" containing food, medical, and hygiene items that had been stocked in Guadeloupe, ready for a disaster in the Caribbean.

The French and Italian governments put their military transport planes to work Sunday, carrying blankets, cots, tents, and inflatable dinghies, but there were signs that the sudden flood of relief supplies was overwhelming US authorities.

The Swedish Rescue Services Agency said Sunday it had postponed sending two portable water purification stations to New Orleans until the authorities were able to install them at Louis Armstrong International Airport. …