Hannes Richter

Tales of a Helping Hand

Hannes Richter

by Lucia Stocker

When Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, it left behind devastation of an area the size of England. International aid offers from all over the world began to reach the United States. Austria was one of the first countries to help.

Most European countries soon joined in, and what finally emerged was an unprecedented aid effort to support the United States. Austria has offered much assistance, ranging from a Crisis Intervention Team via an emergency support unit to plastic tarpaulins to camp beds. An emergency team was dispatched to Houston, TX, consisting of two officials representing the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Consul General Martin Krämer and Second Secretary Roland Rudorfer, both from the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Two specialists were sent from the Austrian Ministry of the Interior and one person representing the Ministry of Defense, Lt. Col. Hatzenbichler, who is also stationed at the Austrian Embassy. Four representatives from the Austrian Red Cross were dispatched to assist their American colleagues. The Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. established a crisis squad and opened an account for donations.

The emergency team on site in Texas operated around the clock, trying to find and save missing and trapped Austrians, working together with representatives from other states in order to ensure the fastest and most effective help to as many people in need as possible. Despite the widespread destruction of the area and the highly complex task of discovering people still trapped in the region, they were successful in evacuating families and arrangingtheir safe trip to Austria where they now have the chance to recover before returning to their destroyed homes in New Orleans. The Austrian presence was highly acknowledged, and citizens frequently expressed their gratitude to the team.

Second Secretary Roland Rudorfer in Louisiana

Some exchange students were also affected by Hurricane Katrina. Thanks to the excellent cooperation especially between the University of Innsbruck and the University of New Orleans (UNO), Austrian exchange students are given the chance to study at UNO. Due to the unforeseen events, winter term had to be cancelled but a wave of help and great cooperation followed. Because of the tremendous efforts from both Austria and the United States, all students who wished to stay were placed elsewhere in universities throughout the United States.

Katrina brought destruction to many homes.

Austrian support has not gone unnoticed: On the occasion of an official visit paid by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on September 9 in Washington, D.C., the latter expressed her thanks for Austria's assistance. In many lettersand e-mails, people from all over the United States expressed their gratitude. In accepting Hurricane Katrina relief, the United States is experiencing a stunning reversal of roles. What makes official Washington feel powerless is good for the hearts of Americans, as these letters reveal:

Dear Ambassador Eva Nowotny,
My name is Malini P. and I am an 11th grade student in high school. I noticed in a news report that Austria has been one of those nations helping out.  As an American I appreciate the efforts of your nation and people in our time of need. My country is not used to being on the receiving end of aid from other nations.  It is nice to know there are friends like Austria out there willing to help us.  Sincerely, Malini P., Herndon, VA

Dear Friends in Austria,
Thank you for pledging water pumps, cots, and plastic sheets to help the people in Hurricane Katrina. We are very happy with your support. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. Yours, Adriana Brown, age 10, El Cerrito, CA

I am a private citizen in the U.S. who wanted to thank your wonderful people and government for the aid and support you have given to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Your efforts will help many rebuild their lives and go forward in life. There is no greater kindness than extending a helping hand to those in need. Please extend my sincerest gratitude to your people and government for their wonderful act of kindness and responsibility. Sincerely, Deborah Lariscy, Naples, FL

Please convey to Austria's  leadership and to her people how deeply grateful we Americans are for Austria's offer of friendship and support as America recovers from Hurricane Katrina. We are moved by your kindness. Respectfully yours, April Mulqueen, Brookline, MA