UK survivors criticise British response as 150 still missing

Helen McCormack
Monday 05 September 2005 00:00
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As survivors began to arrive back into the UK, a picture of abject fear, desolation and a sense of abandonment by the British Government began to emerge.

With the number of British holidaymakers and expats affected by the hurricane still unclear, the Foreign Office admitted it did not know the exact number yet to be evacuated from cities along the ravaged coast.

The Foreign Office minister Lord Triesman admitted last night that relatives had inquired about 300 people, and contact had been made with about half. He said: "Roughly speaking ... we think there may be another 140, 150 people we want to be clear about.

"I just pray that no one has been killed. But in a disaster like this no one can be certain."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said last night that it had provided "help and advice" to 72 people. A considerable number of those are thought to have taken refuge in stadiums, including the Superdome in New Orleans.

The first groups flew back into Gatwick airport early yesterday. Many criticised embassy officials for failing to enter the city over the past week. But the Foreign Office said it had been acting on the request of the US authorities, and had been "pushing" to be able to enter the city.

"We have been concerned that our staff were not being allowed in," a spokeswoman said, adding that extra staff would be joining the 20 officials already deployed to the surrounding cities, and had been granted permission to enter New Orleans today.

Anger at the response of embassy officials in Louisiana was voiced by Teresa Cherrie, 42, who issued a plea for help on American television after being discovered stranded on a rooftop in Baton Rouge with her partner, John Drysdale, 41.

After a journalist lent her a satellite phone, she was able to contact her family in Renfrew, Scotland, and told them how they had been forced to steal food to survive. Herbrother, Peter McGowan, told The Independent he had spoken to Ms Cherrie on Saturday, and she said she was now being looked after by an American family, who had provided clothing and shelter and were helping her to arrange a flight home. On Saturday, she had had no contact with British consular officials and her family had not been contacted by anyone in the UK, Mr McGowan said.

"She feels as if she has been totally abandoned by the Foreign Office," he said, adding that the consulate seemed "totally unprepared. We are just thankful that she is safe, but it is an American TV channel, rather than any British officials, that have rescued her. Right now, there is just elation, but I think there is also a lot of anger."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Wayne Henry, 48, a police officer who flew out to Louisiana to find his son, Peter, 20, after receiving a text from him saying he was stuck in the Superdome. "I have no confidence in the British Government. They are not doing enough for people out here and there are still people missing," he told BBC News from Dallas after being reunited with his son.

Peter Henry was just one of the 100,000 British tourists who visited every year. He had just completed a work placement with Camp America. The organisation said 14 young Britons working on the camps had been trapped in the affected cities. While waiting for news, their parents had expressed frustration at the lack of support they were receiving from British and US authorities, said Mark Childs, Camp America's UK marketing director. He added that the Foreign Office had mistakenly claimed that it was flying all survivors home, when it had borne the costs for the seven survivors with the organisation.

One of those who flew into London yesterday morning, Sarah Yorston, 21, said she witnessed "total chaos and devastation" after taking refuge in the Superdome. "These people have lost everything and they are just desperate people doing desperate things," she said.

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