LONDON (Reuters) – The world has watched amazed as the planet’s only superpower struggles with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with some saying the chaos has exposed flaws and deep divisions in American society.
World leaders and ordinary citizens have expressed sympathy with the people of the southern United States whose lives were devastated by the hurricane and the flooding that followed.
But many have also been shocked by the images of disorder beamed around the world — looters roaming the debris-strewn streets and thousands of people gathered in New Orleans waiting for the authorities fail to provide food, water and other aid.
“Anarchy in the USA” declared Britain’s best-selling newspaper The Sun.
“Apocalypse Now” headlined Germany’s Handelsblatt daily.
The pictures of the catastrophe — which has killed hundreds and possibly thousands — have evoked memories of crises in the world’s poorest nations such as last year’s tsunami in Asia, which left more than 230,000 people dead or missing.
But some view the response to those disasters more favorably than the lawless aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering,” Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, as he watched a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
“Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world’s population is.”
SINKING INTO ANARCHY
Many newspapers highlighted criticism of local and state authorities and of President Bush. Some compared the sputtering relief effort with the massive amounts of money and resources poured into the war in Iraq.
“A modern metropolis sinking in water and into anarchy — it is a really cruel spectacle for a champion of security like Bush,” France’s left-leaning Liberation newspaper said.
“(Al Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden, nice and dry in his hideaway, must be killing himself laughing.”
A female employee at a multinational firm in South Korea said it may have been no accident the U.S. was hit.
“Maybe it was punishment for what it did to Iraq, which has a man-made disaster, not a natural disaster,” said the woman, who did not want to be named as she has an American manager.
“A lot of the people I work with think this way. We spoke about it just the other day,” she said.
Commentators noted the victims of the hurricane were overwhelmingly African Americans, too poor to flee the region as the hurricane loomed unlike some of their white neighbors.
New Orleans ranks fifth in the United States in terms of African American population and 67 percent of the city’s residents are black.
“In one of the poorest states in the country, where black people earn half as much as white people, this has taken on a racial dimension,” said a report in Britain’s Guardian daily.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, in a veiled criticism of U.S. political thought, said the disaster showed the need for a strong state that could help poor people.
“You see in this example that even in the 21st century you need the state, a good functioning state, and I hope that for all these people, these poor people, that the Americans will do their best,” he told reporters at a European Union meeting in Newport, Wales.
David Fordham, 33, a hospital anesthetist speaking at a London underground rail station, said he had spent time in America and was not surprised the country had struggled to cope.
“Maybe they just thought they could sit it out and everything would be okay,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable though — the TV images — and your heart goes out to them.”
(With reporting by Reuters bureaux around the world)