The Miami Herald
Wed, Sep. 29, 2004

Bush proposes storm aid package


The Bush administration has proposed a $50 million aid package for Caribbean nations devastated by this season's one-two-three punch from hurricanes.

The money for ''vital humanitarian relief and emergency resources, such as water, food and shelter,'' would go to Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic ''and other nations affected by recent hurricanes,'' the White House announced Monday.

The $50 million is part of a $7.1 billion aid and recovery package President Bush will propose to Congress to help Florida and other states struck by hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne.

Through the U.S. Agency for International Development's office of foreign disaster assistance, the United States has previously given $3.8 million to Caribbean nations for hurricane relief.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, said he welcomed the push for more disaster relief for the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, where more than 1,500 people have been killed by floods caused by Jeanne and more than 200,000 were left homeless.

Meek last week criticized the Bush Administration's response to the crisis as insufficient, and asked the president for more aid.

''Even as we repair the damage to our own homes, businesses and communities here in Florida and help our citizens restore their lives, I'm pleased that the Bush Administration granted my request and finally asked for desperately needed aid to help Haiti, the poorest nation in our hemisphere, and the other Caribbean nations,'' Meek said.

In Haiti, ''Thousands of homes were destroyed, along with crops, hospitals and roads. Law and order is breaking down and disease is on the verge of running rampant,'' Meek added. ``I don't know why the Bush Administration waited so long to ask for this help, but now that it has, I hope Congress will pass it immediately and that the administration will cut through the normal bureaucratic red tape so that there are no delays in getting aid to the people who need it most.''

At least a dozen Caribbean nations have been battered in recent weeks by ferocious winds, 20-foot high storm surges and rising flood waters. In some, the damage was catastrophic.

In the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Grenada, thousands are homeless and still without electricity, running water and phone service because of hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

Not since Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998 has there been such a great need among the United States' neighbors, international aid experts say.

''We are just scratching the surface,'' said Julieta Valls, president of the state-supported Florida Association for Volunteer Action in the Caribbean and the Americas, who is awaiting damage assessment reports to figure out how her group can best assist the rebuilding effort. ``We have no idea of what the needs will be. It is so much worse than what we imagined.''

José Fuentes, a spokesman for USAID, said that while his agency has already donated nearly $4 million in relief supplies and technical assistance to the Caribbean region -- half of it to Haiti -- it knows it will have to give more.