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Looting fears stopped poor fl eeing disaster

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FAILURE TO understand New Orleans' social problems raised the number of people dying from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, Bobby Lambert, chief executive of disaster relief charity RedR-IHE, said.

He attacked the world's 'wealthiest nation' for being poorly prepared for the disaster, especially in the way it dealt with America's poorer communities.

He said that while residents of New Orleans were asked to evacuate, many of the city's poor were too afraid to leave, fearing their homes would be looted.

'It's not just the [flooding] disaster that you're dealing with, it's moving people and the social breakdown which ensues, ' said Lambert.

He added that mass evacuation of cities was possible where communities responded well and social systems were set up to cope with disasters.

Lambert said that America should have heeded the lessons learnt in Cuba in July when Hurricane Dennis struck.

He said: 'Cuba faced its strongest storms in 40 years but managed to evacuate 1.5M people in a matter of hours so the death toll was kept to less than 20.' Lambert also attacked America's failure to plan refuges for the evacuees.

New Orleans' Superdome stadium was used to house up to 20,000 evacuees. Reports from New Orleans spoke of gun battles, murders and rapes as the Superdome struggled without running water or electricity, while sewage overflowed from toilets.

'When you plan a refugee camp the first thing you make sure is that the facilities are in place for security.

This means demarcated safety zones for women; lighting so people feel safe; and adequate sanitation. You also need to prepare for the scenario - for what you need if 100,000 people turn up.' RedR sent engineers to the Asian tsunami hit countries earlier this year (NCEI February), but it will not be sending any to the US.

Lambert said that for RedR 'a disaster is when a country is experiencing something beyond its capability - the US doesn't really need our help'.

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