Israel has taken an active role in supporting the victims of Hurricane Katrina, a devistating hurricane which last week flooded and destroyed many cities and towns in Louisiana, Mississipii, and Alabama. On September 5, 2005, the Israel Foreign Ministry put out an urgent call for all businesses and organizations to donate essential goods to the hurricane victims. Some Israeli organizations, such as Magen David Adom, have set up special funds with the sole purpose of sending monetary contributions to the victims.
The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is prepared to offer 20 or more scholarships and to shorten the acceptance process for students from Tulane Universtiy in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was forced to shut down and cancel its fall semester. Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine has offered Tulane medical students access to openings in the school to come study medicine in Israel.
With the death toll possibly reaching in the thousands, a non-governmental group called IsraAID (the Israel Forum for Internation Aid) is sending a private delegation of divers to New Orleans to search for bodies in flooded homes. The delegation of about 25 members will be armed with high-power flashlights to search for bodies in the dark, contaminated waters covering New Orleans. Previous IsraAID diving missions helped in rescue operations after the Southeast Asian tsunami, as well as in Turkey, Georgia and Romania. The task of finding bodies in this water is extremely dangerous because it may have become contaminated by chemicals, human waste, garbage and decomposing corpses.
The Bush Administration announced in mid-September that it did not need Israeli divers and physicians to come to the United States for search and rescue missions, but a small team landed in New Orleans on September 10 to give assistance to operations already under way. The team administered first aid to survivors, rescued abandoned pets and discovered hurricane victims. Republican and Democratic lawmakers from Louisiana applauded the Israeli team for their efforts. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) said, “The work being done by IsraAID and their team members to help the people of Louisiana is greatly appreciated." Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) said the Israelis “performed courageously in south Louisiana when we needed them most.”
The IsraAID assistance team was funded through a variety of organizations. They received initial funding from the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Philadelphia-based CMS Companies, but also received support from federations in Houston, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. National Jewish groups, like the American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee also provided financial and logistical support.