WASHINGTON -- The State Department has announced that it has accepted nearly a billion dollars in pledges of foreign aid following Hurricane Katrina, including hundreds of millions in cash to be donated directly to the federal government as well as planeloads of ready-to-eat meals, tents, and baby formula.
The assistance is beginning to pour in from countries large and small, a week after President Bush said on ABC's ''Good Morning America" that he had not asked for foreign assistance and didn't think the United States needed it.
Yesterday, Harry Thomas Jr., the State Department executive secretary who is helping to coordinate the foreign relief effort, denied that the Bush administration was lukewarm toward accepting the help.
''Not in the State Department," Thomas said, without referring to the White House. ''We welcomed all offers. This is unprecedented."
Still, the effort to coordinate foreign aid has faced many of the same difficulties and delays that have dogged the entire emergency response. The United States says it must carefully coordinate the aid and determine what help is needed and where to send it.
Yesterday, three Canadian warships and one coast guard ship departed for the Gulf Coast, a week after the government rushed to pack them with emergency assistance. Canadian divers also began work to help repair the damaged harbor in Pascagoula, Miss.
A Mexican army convoy and a navy ship stocked with food, supplies, and specialists made their way north toward the US border last night, days after Mexico extended its offer of assistance. On Tuesday, the first planeload of tents arrived from France at a military airport in Little Rock, Ark., after officials spent all weekend trying to determine where the shipment should land. Another French plane filled with food was due to land yesterday in Biloxi, Miss.
Aid officials in Poland and Austria said yesterday they had not yet heard back from the United States about whether their offers of aid had been accepted. Planeloads of supplies waited yesterday morning in Sweden and India without word from the US government on whether or when they would receive permission to land in the United States.
Thomas said yesterday that it takes time to sift through the offers and match them with needs.
''The worst thing we could do, the worst thing, is to take things, have them go to Little Rock or any other distribution center, sit on the ground and not be utilized," he said.
Despite the logistical difficulties and the early message from Bush, foreign countries leapt to help.
Fatma Al-Khalifa, director of the information office at the Kuwaiti Embassy, said her country donated a massive package of cash and crude oil -- worth half a billion dollars -- because Americans came to the tiny country's aid during the first Gulf War.
More than 95 countries have come forward with offers, and so far 48 have been accepted. In addition to pledges from the oil-rich Middle East, donors also include some of the world's poorest economies, including Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Djibouti.
The US government immediately accepted all cash donations, which are easy to process. So far, that amount totals about $350 million. The funds were being channeled to the State Department, USAID, and the initiative set up by Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, Thomas said. Other countries opted to donate directly to the Red Crescent or the Red Cross.
The US government has also given the go-ahead for food aid from Thailand, medical supplies from Taiwan, baby clothes from Mexico, high-speed water pumps from Germany, first aid kits from Israel, and levee specialists from the Netherlands.
But the US government has yet to take Fidel Castro of Cuba up on his offer to send 1,000 doctors. Thomas said the Bush administration also had rejected Iran's offer to send 10 million barrels of crude; it appeared to be conditional on the United States agreeing not to seek UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Kuwait: $400 million in oil and $100 million cash
United Arab Emirates: $100 million cash
Qatar: $100 million cash
Republic of Korea: $30 million cash and in-kind donations
Australia: $7.6 million
China: $5.1 million cash and
India: $5 million cash
Ireland: $1 million to Red Cross
Iraq: $1 million cash
Bangladesh: $1 million cash
Azerbaijan: $500,000 cash
Gabon: $500,000 cash
Afghanistan: $100,000 cash
Armenia: $100,000 cash
Bahamas: $50,000 cash
Maldives: $25,000 cash
Sri Lanka: $25,000 cash
Bosnia: $6,414 cash
SOURCE: US State Department