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US requests emergency aid from Switzerland

Millions of Americans are homeless following the hurricane

(Keystone)

The United States has passed a list to Switzerland of material it requires as it struggles to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In a separate development, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has set up a website to help reunite families divided by the disaster.

The Swiss foreign ministry said the US embassy in Bern had on Sunday submitted a list to the government of items it required. The ministry did not specify what help had been requested but said the list was long.

Spokesman Lars Knuchel said the ministry would liaise with the Americans over the delivery of the goods.

The US has also requested assistance from the European Union and Nato.

The request to Switzerland comes after Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey wrote to the US ambassador, Pamela Willeford, on Friday offering emergency assistance and help in reconstruction.

Washington has received offers of help from many countries, as well as organisations including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Health Organization.

A State Department official said a needs assessment was being done to determine which offers would be accepted.

Family links

The US administration has spoken of thousands of dead and missing following the deadly hurricane, which struck the Gulf Coast six days ago.

Around 600 Swiss live in the affected areas but there are no reports of Swiss victims.

Among those reported missing are children who have become separated from their parents.

Working alongside the American Red Cross, the ICRC is trying to help those seeking information about relatives who may have been caught up in the disaster.

The website - http://www.familylinks.icrc.org/katrina - provides a list of survivors and allows visitors to register missing persons.

By Sunday there were already tens of thousands of names on the list.

People arriving at emergency shelters will be given the opportunity to fill out a form with their name, address and contact information, which will then be added to the list.

The ICRC compiled similar lists last December for tsunami-hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and India.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Hurricane Katrina caused destruction over an area of 233,000 square kilometres.
Before the hurricane there were 1.4 million people living in the New Orleans area. Around 60,000 people were unable to escape in time.
More than one million people were made homeless by the storm.
Around 350,000 houses were destroyed.

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In brief

More than 50 countries, including Switzerland, have offered the US assistance.

The Geneva-based ICRC has set up a website to reunite families divided by the disaster.

Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, has said it will not collect funds for victims. It is redirecting would-be donors to the Swiss Red Cross.

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