The cash-strapped city of New Orleans is turning to foreign countries for help to rebuild as federal hurricane-recovery dollars remain slow to flow.
Kenya Smith, director of intergovernmental relations for Mayor Ray Nagin, said city leaders are talking with more than five countries. He wouldn't identify the countries, saying discussions were in the early stages. But he said the city is "very serious" about pursuing foreign help.
"Of course, we would love to have all the resources we need from federal and state partners, but we're comfortable now in having to be creative," Smith said. He did not know if the city would have to overcome any obstacles if it got firm pledges for aid, but "we want to make sure we're leaving no options unexplored."
For months Nagin has complained bureaucracy is choking the flow of much-needed federal aid dollars to New Orleans - slowing the city's recovery. As of June 8, the city said it had received just over half of the $320 million FEMA has obligated for rebuilding city infrastructure and emergency response-related costs. The city has estimated its damage at far more than that - at least $1 billion. And that doesn't include other improvements - such as raised neighborhoods - meant to help build the stronger city promoted by Nagin and his recovery director.
Discussions with foreign representatives have been occurring off and on since the storm, but Smith said the city became re-engaged after a news report in April that millions of dollars in aid offered by foreign countries after Hurricane Katrina went unaccepted.
It wasn't clear how much of the $854 million in aid originally offered remained on the table.