As an avowed Libertarian, people often ask me the "tough" questions, such as "would I give a starving child a muffin if it would save his/her life and wouldn't cost me anything?" These type of questions are meant to show me that my beliefs in personal responsibility and anti-altruism are so ridiculous and morally reprehensible that I should renounce my entire belief structure in favor of a more "compassionate" or "progressive" philosophy. Because I know that arguing with people who pose such questions to me is essentially useless (they aren't going to convince me of my error any more than I am going to convince them of my sincerity), I just nod and walk away. The real answer (at least for me) is that being a libertarian is not a day-to-day philosophy of life. Just as most Marxists would happily win the lottery and buy a new Rolls-Royce, I can, without any internal philosophical turmoil, donate blood or buy a cup of coffee for the neighborhood panhandler on a cold, winter night. Howard Roark might be an idealized model, but he is also an impossibility in the contemporary world of compromise and coexistence.
Why does this matter at all when faced with the horrendous realities of a natural disaster? It matters because I, as a semi-affluent student, feel some small measure of "guilt" (call it a Nietzschean conscience, or a Judeo-Christian inspired moral responsibility) if I do not donate some of my time and money to the relief effort. This guilt is at constant loggerheads with my philosophical stance of libertarianism. I imagine that many other libertarians feel the same conflict and, although I can speak for no one other than myself, I thought I might offer the solution which has provided me a measure of personal satisfaction.
While I do not normally believe in "charity" in the sense of tithing or giving monies to random groups with political agendas or moral missions, this is because many of those groups seek to assist individuals who have, in some way, brought themselves into a difficult situation or are merely seeking a way out of adversity without trying to work for their way out. I believe in neither a "hand out" or a "hand up."
Natural disasters, on the other hand, provide an entirely different set of circumstances. The individuals affected by the tragedy did nothing to bring their family to dire straits, and the doctrines of Social Darwinism should not apply. Certainly, the argument can be made that they knew that they were living in an area that would potentially be flooded, or that they did not heed the warnings of the weather service, or that they did not take adequate safety precautions to protect against the possibility of such a tragedy. However, these arguments fail when applied to the greater category of natural disasters. There is a reason insurance companies characterize certain things as "acts of god" - there is no way to protect against such circumstances. A tidal wave could destroy Los Angeles or New York as surely as it did Thailand and Bangladesh, and an earthquake could destroy Atlanta or Minneapolis as surely as it did Iran or San Fransisco. Tornadoes, lightning storms or hurricanes are unpredictable and tragic - we should never blame the victims for their "unpreparedness."
I will donate money to the Red Cross, or some other humanitarian organization. I will do this not out of any "duty" to help my fellow man, or any responsibility I might have (as I do not recognize any such duty, nor would I condemn anyone who decided against giving money or aid in this, or any similar, situation). I am doing this because I believe that when people are stricken by forces outside of their control and beyond their ability to prevent, it is no vice to attempt to help them. It may not be a virtue, either, but each person should make their own decision. For me, in this moment, I will give, and I will be happy to do so.