Katrina to the rest of the world

Among the responses: Sadness, sympathy, but not a lot of charity.

By Scott Lamb
September 1, 2005 1:41AM (UTC)
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As rescue teams still struggled to locate survivors in Louisiana and Mississippi, the rest of the world began trying to understand the disaster unfolding along the Gulf Coast. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway's pronouncement -- "This is our tsunami" -- was picked up by the global media as a banner for the catastrophe on Wednesday, and the story was front-page news all around the world, with the arresting photos of a submerged New Orleans appearing in papers from Brisbane, Australia, to Belfast, Ireland.

British papers were dominated by coverage of the damage to Louisiana, with even the usually hyperbolic Sun devoting pages to fairly sober coverage of the storm and its aftermath: "There were apocalyptic scenes in the city, where thousands of citizens lost everything as homes were destroyed -- some torn clean off their foundations. Coastguard helicopters clattered in the skies as they plucked frantic survivors from rooftops." The BBC put together a special section devoted to the hurricane on its Web site, which carried related headlines for most of the day. One article wondered if the storm was "nature's revenge," writing that "for generations, many who live and work in the Big Easy have feared the worst."


Another reported on Queen Elizabeth's message to President Bush, saying she is "shocked and saddened" at devastation.

France's Le Monde ran several front-page hurricane-related stories, and Le Figaro printed Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's message of support to President Bush, assuring that "the solidarity of the people of France" was behind him. "During these terrible days, I've followed the progression of this catastrophe with a deep emotion," Chirac wrote.

Even smaller European papers were devoting major coverage to the story. The Kleine Zeitung in Graz, Austria, carried an enormous front-page photo of the floods, with the headline "The Real Catastrophe Is Just Beginning."


The Times of India found a local angle of sorts: a profile of Indian-American Rep. Bobby Jindal, who was one of the many thousands left homeless by the storm. The paper notes, "Soon after he came into Congress this year, he began to lobby and successfully got passed legislation reversing an earlier ruling that would have taxed compensation to his state's residents for monies they got as a result of natural disasters."

The stories of looting also got international attention. South Africa's Independent Online was running an AP wire article on looters as its top hurricane story on Wednesday afternoon, and the Times of India also ran a looting story.

The world's reaction, though, has been noticeably different from what it was to the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean rim last December. Part of the reason is obvious -- whereas the Indian Ocean tsunami struck many countries that simply had no way of dealing with a disaster of such scope, the U.S., it's assumed, has the means and resources to deal with the catastrophe on its own. And for the most part, the calls for donations that appeared after the Indian tsunami have not appeared. As Der Spiegel points out, the European Web sites for organizations like the Red Cross haven't put up calls for donations, though they are carrying news items about the relief effort. A worker for Caritas, one of Germany's major aid groups, told the magazine it had received only one donation by midday Tuesday. "America has a strong army and are well equipped for disaster relief," she said. "It makes no sense for us to go in and try to help. What really would we do? They have enough personnel to handle the crisis alone."


Some reactions, though, have had less to do with U.S. disaster preparedness than with U.S. environmental policy. As some scientists have pointed out, there is the possibility of a link between storms like Katrina and the trend of global warming. In Germany, minister of the environment J|rgen Trittin drew the line directly to Bush's stance on the Kyoto Protocol in an editorial in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina -- in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures -- can visit on his country."

Der Spiegel's original article on German reactions got picked up by the Drudge Report on Tuesday night, leading to a firestorm of correspondence, which the magazine has since begun posting.


In an article blasting Trittin, Der Spiegel writes, "The worst of it is that Trittin isn't alone with his cold, malicious tenor. The coverage from much of the German media tends in the same direction: If Bush had only listened to Uncle Trittin and signed the Kyoto Protocol, then this never would have happened."

"It's not the American people's fault that the storm hit and they couldn't have stopped it," the magazine writes. "The Germans, on the other hand, could have done a lot to prevent World War II. And yet, care packages still rained down from US troops. Trittin's know-it-all stance is therefore not only tasteless, it is also historically blind."

Scott Lamb

Scott Lamb is a senior editor at BuzzFeed.com.

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