The people of Oklahoma can use every resource available after two weeks of tornadoes and destruction. Our friends to the north have rallied to their cause, gathering badly-needed supplies of food, water, and other necessities. However, Canada can’t get their trucks across the border, thanks to US regulations — and the absence of a federal declaration of disaster [see update], according to CBC News (via Instapundit):
A Canadian shipment of relief goods bound for storm-ravaged Oklahoma has been stopped at the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor, Ont.
American officials will not allow the 20,000 kilograms of food, blankets and diapers into the country until every item on board is itemized in alphabetical order and has the country of origin of every product noted.
Dennis Sauve, the volunteer co-ordinator for Windsor Lifeline Outreach and the food bank co-ordinator at the Windsor Christian Fellowship, the two organizations that gathered the goods, said it’s a “physical impossibility” to do the paperwork required in time to get the perishable food to Oklahoma before it spoils.
Because U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t declared Moore, Okla., tornado a disaster area, the 52-foot trailer of goods is considered a commercial shipment rather than humanitarian aid.
The Windsor Star has more:
It started with a quibble about rice.
Customs agents told the charity it would have to unload a skid of Basmati rice because it might contain an invasive species of beetle, Sauve said, so volunteers made arrangements to remove it.
“It looked like that was going to be the final step,” Sauve said. “And then, bam – they’re not going to let anything through.”
At about 6 p.m. Thursday, Sauve said volunteers learned the truck wouldn’t get any special treatment as humanitarian aid at all because the president hasn’t declared the tornado damage a federal disaster.
Instead, customs agents would consider it a commercial shipment, which means every food item on the truck needs a certificate from the Food and Drug Administration to make it through the border.
“Which, basically, is almost an impossibility,” Sauve said. About one-fifth of the food on the truck comes from companies that ship to the U.S. and has the necessary certification, but he said it would be extremely difficult to get approvals for the rest.
I’m a little surprised that President Obama hasn’t declared Oklahoma a federal disaster area yet. [See update — he has.] That requires a request from the governor and a FEMA survey — usually quick and pro forma in cases like this. The FEMA website notes that approval for such a declaration can come within “a few hours,” and this would seem like a rather easy situation to analyze once the process has begun. Since it’s not clear whether the request has been made for federal disaster relief, it’s unclear who to blame for the delay.
What’s crystal clear is the absurdity of the standoff that has 40,000 pounds of badly-needed aid stalled at at the US-Canada border. Under the circumstances, disaster declaration or not, Oklahoma needs the help. Furthermore, it should go without saying that the Canadian food system is modern enough to be low-risk to Americans even under normal circumstances. Not only is this absurd, it’s insulting to Canadians, who rallied to help us, not boost food exports.
Someone at the White House had better get on the horn ASAP to the border station and — to quote C. W. McCall and the 1970s novelty song “Convoy” — let them truckers roll. 10-4?
Update: Barack Obama did declare at least some parts of Oklahoma a federal disaster area:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that federal disaster aid has been made available to the State of Oklahoma to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms and tornadoes beginning May 18, 2013, and continuing.
The President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie counties.
Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Federal funding is also available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie counties.
FEMA works within the Department of Homeland Security, which also has authority over Immigrations and Custom Enforcement. So what’s the problem?