Wheelchair-bound Australian rescued in New Orleans

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

A 75 year old wheelchair-bound Australian man has been rescued from his home in New Orleans. Keith Faulkner was rescued by a neighbour after floodwaters stranded him in his home for five days. Mr Faulkner is suffering from cancer. He was left behind by his family as floodwaters rose.

"When the flooding started his family had no choice but to leave themselves, and he was left in the house as best they could manage," the Australian ambassador to the United States said.

The man was eventually moved by neighbours to a nursing home in Lafayette.

"He was rescued by a neighbour after five days stranded in his house and he's been in a nursing home in Lafayette, Louisiana," said Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has been criticised for the lack of support provided to Australian victims of the disaster. The Labor Party has been particularly scathing in its attacks.

"The bottom line is this: when it comes to helping Australians on the ground, the Australian Government has failed miserably to persuade its closest friend and ally - the United States Government - to allow Australian consular officials access to help our own people," said opposition defence spokesman Kevin Rudd. Mr Rudd was referring to the US governments refusal of a request by Australian consular officials to enter New Orleans and search for Australians.

"You need a few days to allow people to assess the situation and to deploy personnel. But a week later, we have one official go in and can only stay there until night-time and then has to skedaddle out of there. I mean, what's happening here? It's just not good enough," he added.

Some people have been critical of the Australians caught in the disaster. Former Federal Liberal Pary Minister Wilson Tuckey attacked the victims, suggesting that they should have left New Orleans earlier.

"Why was the woman quoted by the Leader of the Opposition today so insistent, not that the Prime Minister get her out of her problems, but the Australian taxpayer get her out of her problems, when in fact all the warnings we heard here in Australia [said it] was unwise to stay," he said.