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President Obama says the Haitian people will not be forgotten or forsaken in the aftermath of the disaster.

President Obama says the Haitian people will not be forgotten or forsaken in the aftermath of the disaster.

14 January 2010

Haiti Disaster Relief Is Top U.S. Priority Right Now, Obama Says, January 14, 2010

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — The first wave of American search-and-rescue teams, disaster relief experts, military forces and supplies are at work in Haiti, beginning what President Obama says will be a massive U.S. relief effort in response to the January 12 earthquake, which caused losses that he called “nothing less than devastating.”

“None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who’s trapped, if you’re sleeping on the streets, if you can’t feed your children. But it’s important that everybody in Haiti understand, at this very moment, one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving towards Haiti,” the president told reporters at the White House January 14.

Obama said he told his national security team that Haiti “must be a top priority for their departments and agencies right now.” The moment calls for American leadership, he said, and “responding to a disaster of this magnitude will require every element of our national capacity — our diplomacy and development assistance, the power of our military and, most importantly, the compassion of our country.”

He announced an immediate $100 million investment in U.S. relief efforts that will provide additional lifesaving equipment, food, water and medicine. “This investment will grow over the coming year, as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy,” he said. The president also repeated his call for Americans to contribute to the relief effort.

In the 24 hours since President Obama’s January 13 call for “a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives,” U.S. rescue and relief workers have arrived and begun their efforts to save lives. Disaster experts worked overnight to assess the damage from the 7.0 magnitude quake, identified priority areas, and shared their review with other U.S. and international personnel. The president reported that U.S. military forces have secured Haiti’s airport, which had sustained damage and lost its control tower, hampering the arrival of international support.

The airport is now prepared “to receive the heavy equipment and resources that are on the way and to receive them around the clock, 24 hours a day,” Obama said, adding that the United States is airlifting priority items such as water and medicine.

“More American search-and-rescue teams are coming, more food, more water, doctors, nurses, paramedics — more of the people, equipment and capabilities that can make the difference between life and death,” he said.

But at the same time, Obama said, many roads remain impassable, communications are only beginning to come online, and Haiti’s main port is badly damaged.

The president offered condolences to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), whose headquarters were badly damaged in the quake, and said the United Nations had experienced “one of the greatest losses in its history.” At the same time, he praised the work of its 7,000 peacekeepers, most of whom are from Brazil, and noted their continued “outstanding peacekeeping efforts” even after sustaining their own losses.

“We have no doubt that we can carry on the work that was done by so many of the U.N. effort that have been lost, and we see that their legacy is Haiti’s hope for the future,” he said.

Addressing the “strong and resilient” Haitian people, President Obama acknowledged their years of suffering even before the earthquake, when “daily life itself was often a bitter struggle.”

“You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten,” he told them. “You have endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who cut her visit to the East Asia–Pacific region short in order to return to Washington to help lead the U.S. response to the earthquake, described the disaster as “devastating on every level” in a January 14 interview with ABC’s Good Morning America television show.

The United States will work with Haiti’s government, the United Nations and its partners in providing disaster relief, “and as we get through this crisis, we’re going to do everything we can to help Haiti rebuild,” she said.

The secretary said she has a long personal history with the country, having made her first visit to Haiti in 1975. Before the earthquake, the Obama administration had undertaken “a full government effort” to help the Haitian people. “We were making a lot of progress,” she said. “Businesses were returning to Haiti; we had a great plan from the Haitian government, who is our partner.”

In the aftermath, the need is going to be very large. “Thankfully, the people of Haiti are a resilient people,” she said.

Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, is now the United Nations special envoy to Haiti. He spoke with CNN January 13 and said the Haitian government is calling for more rescue and medical assistance as well as heavy equipment.

“We need more helicopters because some of the roads are closed and we need to get … the earth-moving equipment that the Haitians have in play and … from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere to clear out the big debris and free up as many roads as possible,” Special Envoy Clinton said.

He said there was currently no way to know how many have died so far. The current emphasis must be on “saving as many lives as possible, trying to preserve with some dignity those who have died so they can be identified by their loved ones and properly buried, and then trying to help those who’ve been injured.”

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