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New Orleans relief effort “unacceptable”

A woman and her baby outside the Convention Center in New Orleans Keystone

A Swiss expatriate evacuated from New Orleans tells swissinfo the authorities did not act quickly enough after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Musician Andi Hoffmann and his family left their home in the Carrollton area of the city in the early hours of Sunday morning, only having time to pack some clothes – and his guitar – into their car.

The Hoffmanns, originally from Bern, have lived in New Orleans since 1993.

They fled their home for the town of Lafayette, about 200km west of the ravaged city, where they are staying with friends.

The family is among 600 Swiss expatriates living in the three states worst affected by the storm.

Hoffmann said he did not know if or when he and his family would be able to return home.

swissinfo: What do you think about the current operation to prevent looting and to get the people who are still trapped in the city out?

Andi Hoffmann: I cannot understand why it takes five days to send help to these people. We’ve known since day one that this is a catastrophe and that we need all the help we can get, therefore it’s very hard for me to understand that the army is just now sending in the National Guard.

There are people dying everyday. In our society [it’s unbelievable] that we are not capable of helping them. We can travel large distances within a day, so why is it not possible to send help to New Orleans within a day or two?

swissinfo: There’s been a lot of criticism of President Bush for reacting so late and being slow to send the National Guard to the affected region. How do you feel about the president’s actions up to now?

A.H.: Have we seen anything from this president? We haven’t, so it’s been no surprise. I really can’t understand how the military can react to all kinds of situations outside of the country within a very short period of time [but] here you have a disaster within the country and they are not capable of helping these people. I think it’s unacceptable.

swissinfo: In your opinion, why did so many fail to get out of the city?

A.H.: There are a lot of poor people in New Orleans who don’t have the means to get out. They don’t have a car. We were in a lucky situation, we could just jump in the car and go on the interstate [highway], and the evacuation plan worked for us and we are safe.

But the people in poor neighbourhoods couldn’t do that. There were no buses to pick them up. There was simply not enough time in this situation.

swissinfo: How would you rate the evacuation effort?

A.H.: I think the evacuation effort compared to any previous evacuation was the best ever. It was very well organised. They opened both lanes of the interstate for outgoing traffic.

But if you give a mandatory evacuation order, what are you doing with all the people who don’t have the means to get out? It’s impossible to empty a city completely within one day.

swissinfo: Are all of your friends and family accounted for?

A.H.: I don’t know the whereabouts of everybody yet. I’m very concerned about one family – neighbours of ours who stayed. I talked to them two days ago. The phone was still working and they said they were okay. Their water was cut off, but they still had food. The phone has been disconnected for the past two days and I haven’t heard from them since.

swissinfo-interview: Dale Bechtel

About 600 Swiss live in the southern region of the United States worst hit by Hurricane Katrina.
On Friday, Switzerland offered to send relief aid to the affected areas, including water pumps, and to help with reconstruction efforts.

Swiss musician Andi Hoffmann has lived with his wife in New Orleans since 1993. They have two children.

They have taken refuge in the town of Lafayette.

Swiss citizens who have become destitute or are in need of assistance can contact the Swiss Consulate General in Houston (see link under related sites).

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR