From papal prayers to telegrams from China, the world reacted with an outpouring of compassion Wednesday for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in messages tinged by shock that a disaster of this scale could occur in the United States.
Islamic extremists rejoiced in America's misfortune, giving the storm a military rank and declaring in Internet chatter that "Private" Katrina had joined the global jihad, or holy war. With "God's help," they declared, oil prices would hit $100 a barrel this year.
CBS News State Dept. reporter Charles Wolfson said about a dozen countries have made general offers of assistance, according to State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack. Other officials have indicated the offers include the kind of humanitarian aid which Washington usually offers such as generators and medical care kits.
Even Honduras and Jamaica, which have suffered hurricane damage themselves and been the recipients of U.S. aid, have offered to help the residents of the Gulf Coast.
Venezuela's government, which has had tense relations with Washington, offered humanitarian aid and fuel. Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum Corp. pledged a $1 million donation for hurricane aid.
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz also called President Bush to offer assistance. The minister of petroleum and mineral resources said Monday that Saudi Arabia is ready to immediately increase its crude oil production to replace any market shortages and help stabilize world crude prices.
The storm was seen as an equalizer — proof that any country, weak or strong, can be victimized by a natural disaster. Images of flood-ravaged New Orleans earned particular sympathy in central Europe, where dozens died in raging floodwaters only days ago.
"Nature proved that no matter how rich and economically developed you are, you can't fight it," says Danut Afasei, a local official in Romania's Harghita county, where flooding killed 13 people last week.
Throughout Europe, concerned citizens lamented the loss of life and the damage caused to New Orleans, often described as one of North America's most "European" cities.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sent messages of sympathy to President Bush. Chirac, who has famously quarreled with Bush over the Iraq war, addressed this letter, "Dear George."
Pope Benedict XVI said he was praying for victims of the "tragic" hurricane while China's President Hu Jintao expressed his "belief that that the American people will definitely overcome the natural disaster and rebuild their beautiful homeland."
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II also sent a message to Bush saying she was "deeply shocked and saddened" at the devastation caused by the hurricane and expressing her condolences, "especially to the families of those who have lost their lives, to the injured and to all who have been affected by this terrible disaster."
The U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland — a capital at the foot of the Alps hit by flooding last week — said calls were rushing in from Swiss individuals and institutions looking for a way to donate to relief efforts.
"We are getting calls from the Swiss public looking to express their condolences, (and) people are also asking for an account number where they can make donations," said spokesman Daniel Wendell.
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