The 26-County government will donate O1 million in aid towards Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and is considering sending troops to the region.
Foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern said the hurricane had a “catastrophic effect” on tens of thousands of people. “Ireland has a unique relationship with the people of the United States and it is now appropriate that we show solidarity with them in their time of need,” he said.
However, the proposal to send up to 30 Irish troops to deploy ready-made meals and medical aid in the United States was dismissed as “ludicrous” today by a leading humanitarian worker.
John O’Shea of the Third World agency Goal said he and others had urged successive Irish governments for 20 years to provide protection to Irish doctors and nurses whose lives were at risk in Africa but had drawn a blank.
“I am told we haven’t got the army officers to do this job, yet out of nowhere we find that 30 or 50 or 100 are available,” he said.
“You are talking about the most sophisticated, best-equipped army on the planet (the US Army) and we are the boy scouts, if you like, going into the Battle of the Somme. So let’s be realistic.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was among those who expressed their sympathy to all those affected by the disaster.
“I remember with gratitude the warm welcome I received from the Irish American community in New Orleans and at Tulane University,” he said.
“My thoughts and prayers, and indeed those of people across the island of Ireland, are with them at this dreadful time. I wish Mayor Ray Nagin and all those with the onerous task of dealing with this dreadful disaster well.”
IRISH STILL MISSING
Concern remains about a small number of Irish people thought to have been in the Gulf Coast area when Hurricane Katrina struck last week.
Forty Irish families contacted the Department seeking information about relatives in the area in the wake of the disaster. Most of those missing have been accounted for, and there have been no confirmed Irish deaths.
However, it is understood one or two people are still missing.
A newlywed couple from Ireland who travelled to New Orleans for their honeymoon have told how they were rescued from the squalor and mayhem of the storm-ravaged city.
Jean and Michael Leydon, who were married three weeks ago, said looters and street gangs rampaged through flooded streets as they waded from their hotel to a makeshift refugee camp in a sports arena.
But along the two-mile journey, police warned them to steer clear of the chaotic Superdome and convention centre, where gangs had taken control.
“We had to walk past the convention centre and it was scary. We definitely made the right decision not to go there,” Mr Leydon told Irish Radio.
“We heard comments as we were passing, you know, we can take them. We saw knives being flicked, head down and keep going. There was whole families just camped on the side and utter squalor is the only way to describe it.”
A reporter spotted the Irish couple and offered to take them out of New Orleans. They were driven from the city by the news crew along with two other couples after wading across sewage-covered roads.
“We had to walk through absolute... they called it the swamp, but it’s basically going through the bathroom of 2,500 people. It was disgusting,” Mrs Leydon said.
Irish travellers who returned home after braving the sports arena have told of shootings, rapes and fights breaking out in the Superdome complex.
Three Irish students stranded in the devastation paid tribute to those who helped them flee the city. Tomas McLaughlin, Patrick Clarke and Conor Lally, all from County Louth, spent three nights in the Superdome.
The said conditions in the overcrowded sports arena were horrific and scary, with little food, no water and street gangs roaming the stands.
The trio said a hundred tourists were taken out of the dome under the orders of National Guardsman Sgt Ogden. The students said he ignored initial commands to keep everyone inside and told troops to bring them to safety.
With little food or water for three nights, they were taken to a nearby medical centre. Facing a barrage of verbal, and some physical, abuse from those left behind, Sgt Ogden ensured the students were not harmed, they said.
“We had to be escorted by the National Guard out, there was a lot of people coming up to us, saying are you leaving and shouting abuse at us just basically because we were getting out. They just felt trapped,” Conor said.
“We decided to go to the Superdome on Sunday evening and the hurricane occurred that night, early Monday morning, and we were there until Wednesday morning,” said Tomas, a 20-year-old student at NUI, Galway.
“It was just a scary, scary place. We were just so grateful to get out. It was just dangerous. The corridors were packed, it was very over-populated, no electricity, no running water, no flushing water which was a big one, no hygiene. We were on army rations. There wasn’t enough water to go around. A lot of people there were poor. The standard of living was very low, therefore the conditions were just horrific.”
The students, who travelled to the US for a working holiday on J1 visas and spent a number of weeks at Myrtle Beach in North Carolina, had harsh words for the US government’s relief operation.
Conor, a 20-year-old student at Queen’s University, Belfast, said people’s thoughts should be with the poor and homeless in the southern states.
“We are the lucky ones, it’s the people in New Orleans that are still left there,” Conor said.