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14 January 2010

Air Bridge Opened at Port-au-Prince Airport for Relief Efforts, January 14, 2010

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.

Staff Writer

Washington — An air bridge into Haiti was opened by a U.S. Air Force ground control team that worked around the clock to restore electric power and the control tower at the airport in Port-au-Prince as relief supplies, military troops and aid workers began pouring into the country from around the world.

As fast as an Air Force team from the 1st Special Operations Wing established a working control tower for continuous flight operations and nighttime use of runways on January 14, heavy-lift military cargo jets from the United States and other nations began landing, unloading relief supplies as military ground crews maneuvered forklifts piled high with pallets of goods — generators, vehicles, fuel, communications equipment, food, fresh water, medical equipment and supplies, and shelters.

President Obama announced January 14 in Washington that the United States is fully committed to providing assistance to the earthquake-stricken Caribbean nation of about 9 million. The assistance, though, cannot flow fast enough — Haitian Red Cross officials have already estimated tens of thousands of fatalities, though it could be days before an accurate accounting of casualties can be made. The Red Cross believes that as many as 3 million people on the island have been directly affected by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck on January 12.

“I've directed my administration to launch a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives and support the recovery in Haiti,” Obama said at the White House. “The losses that have been suffered in Haiti are nothing less than devastating. 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.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, scheduled to visit three Asia-Pacific nations, cut short her 10-day diplomatic mission to return to Washington overnight from Honolulu, Hawaii, to join the president and his national security team at the White House.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced January 14 that it was sending 14,550 tons of food aid to Haiti in multiple shipments. The aid includes 7,000 tons of rice, 4,550 tons of corn-soy blend and 3,000 tons of vegetable oil, which are coming from prepositioned stocks in the United States. The food aid, which is designed to feed 1.2 million people for two weeks, will be distributed by the U.N. World Food Programme and through private voluntary organizations.

“Food aid will be critical in the coming weeks,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said. “By acting quickly now, we can help those most affected by this disaster in their time of need.”

At a special State Department briefing January 14, Shah said that the recently reopened international airport is the primary way to get people, technical capacity and equipment into Port-au-Prince.

“The [U.S.] Southern Command [SOUTHCOM] is operating the airport, together with the Haitian government, and is running it around the clock so that we’re maximizing our ability to get planes in there, to unload them and to move them forward,” he said. “We are also looking at a range of other strategies for making sure that we get things from the airport out into town fast, get the teams deployed as quickly as possible.”

MILITARY SUPPORT

SOUTHCOM announced January 14 that the Navy’s USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group would arrive late in the afternoon off Port-au-Prince and is bringing 19 helicopters, which will be critical in ferrying relief supplies to areas that cannot be reached over damaged roads. In addition, a brigade of about 3,500 troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has begun arriving in Haiti to provide support and security.

Another Navy task force that is being sent to Haiti will bring 2,200 U.S. Marines to also provide support and security as needed, SOUTHCOM said.

The Pentagon also said the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship berthed in Baltimore, Maryland, has recalled its crew and is preparing to sail to Haiti, though that could take a week or more. Both the Carl Vinson and supporting military ships also bring considerable medical capabilities, SOUTHCOM officials said.

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