Blair apologises to British Hurricane Katrina survivors

Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologised to British survivors of Hurricane Katrina, as the response of UK officials was criticised for being too slow.

Speaking in Beijing, ahead of a European summit, Mr Blair said: “I’m really sorry if there have been difficulties about this, but I can assure you, some of these staff have been working around the clock.”

The Prime Minister said that officials were doing “everything they possibly can” to help Britons stranded in the Gulf States affected by last week’s hurricane. He said: “The main thing now is to get the organisation and the help in there as far as can be reasonably done and then there’s going to be a huge work of reconstruction after this.

“Everyone’s been shocked by the sheer extent of the devastation, the catastrophe and the human suffering.

“I think it’s been far more shocking and serious than people contemplated.”

More British survivors have been returning to the UK following the hurricane. However, around 130 Britons are still unaccounted for and efforts are continuing to try and trace them.

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to send half a million ration packs – containing enough food for one person for 24 hours – to the US. The first plane left on Monday.

The UK is also co-ordinating with other EU states to respond to the US request for medical teams, water purification units, camp beds, blankets and specialist personnel.

New Orleans, the area that was the worst affected by the hurricane, is now thought to be almost completely evacuated, although rescuers are continuing house-to-house searches for any more survivors.

However, thousands of people have been allowed to return to one of the city's suburbs - Jefferson Parish - in order to inspect their homes and collect some personal belongings. The roads opened at 6am local time (11:00 BST) on Monday and will remain open for 12 hours.

Police and the National Guard are now patrolling the city, where armed gangs are believed to be still at large. There were reports of looting, shootings, stabbings and rapes in the days after the hurricane and a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy was introduced for police, in order to combat the outbreak of lawlessness in the city.

On Sunday, it was reported that police shot dead five people, who apparently opened fire on a group of contractors.

President George W. Bush is currently making his second trip to the devastated Gulf Coast region. In Houston, Texas, former Presidents George Bush senior and Bill Clinton launched the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, to raise money for disaster relief and medical supplies.

It is believed that over a million people have left their homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, with most of the evacuees heading to other states, including Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas.

The exact number of people killed in the hurricane is unknown, but it is feared that the final death toll could be in the thousands.

Relatives of people who may have been in the areas where Hurricane Katrina struck can contact the Foreign Office hotline on: 0207 008 0000 or the British Consulate in Houston on: 001 713 659 6270.


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