A young Haitian earthquake victim is removed from a U.S. helicopter during a medical-evacuation mission January 16.
18 January 2010 U.S., International Community Conquering Problems to Help Haiti, January 18, 2010
By Scott Orr
Washington — Tons of food, water and medical supplies are reaching the survivors of last week’s earthquake in Haiti and U.S. military personnel are on the ground to speed the distribution of aid and maintain security.
“We’re moving … from help being on the way to delivering that help,” said National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Over the weekend, emergency workers succeeded in overcoming many of the challenges that kept millions of frustrated Haitians waiting for relief to arrive.
The Obama administration began mobilizing resources almost immediately after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck on January 12, deploying military personnel and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) workers to the Caribbean island nation.
Obama vowed that the U.S. would help Haiti rise from the rubble and that U.S. aid would continue well after the emergency had passed: “You will not be forgotten,” the President said.
But even as aid began flowing this weekend, Haiti remained in the grips of desperation as tens of thousands of dead were mourned and survivors waited for provisions to be distributed.
By January17, the USAID reported it had provided more than $111 million in humanitarian assistance to Haiti. In addition to food and water, the U.S. relief package included hygiene kits and rolled plastic for use in the construction of shelters.
Also headed for the Caribbean was the USNS Comfort, an 894-foot (272-meter) floating hospital, with 12 operating rooms and 1,000 beds. The Comfort left Baltimore on January 16 and was expected in Haiti sometime this week.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated Obama’s commitment to a long-term U.S. involvement in Haiti during a meeting January 16 with Haitian President René Préval in Port-au-Prince.
“As President Obama has said, we will be here today, tomorrow and for the time ahead,” she said.
The first wave of U.S. relief workers focused on finding and rescuing victims trapped in the rubble of destroyed buildings. Next came the job of opening the airport at Port-au-Prince to allow relief supplies and workers to get in.
Over the weekend, 27 search-and-rescue teams from around the world rescued dozens of people trapped in collapsed buildings. Besides Haitians, 27 nations and the U.N. have reported citizens missing or dead in the disaster.
A major step forward came on January 15, when the Haitian government gave the U.S. temporary control of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. After restoring power and taking over the control tower, the U.S. Air Force said the airport was operating around the clock at a pace of 90 aircraft per day, which increased to 100 per day.
The same success could not be replicated at the port of Port-au-Prince, which was badly damaged by the earthquake. The Pentagon says the port will be unable to resume accepting vessels for 60 to 90 days, though some relief ships have been able to dock.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, with the airport operational, relief workers are looking for other routes to get commodities into Haiti and to develop enhanced distribution networks within the country.
“This happened Tuesday just before sundown and almost immediately, the president pulled us together and ordered a swift and aggressive, comprehensive and coordinated response. And that’s what we’re trying to deliver,” Shah said on Fox News.
The United Nations’ Undersecretary General for Humanity Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes said on MSNBC that relief workers faced multiple challenges in getting supplies into the country, then distributing them. “And then we need to make sure we can do it in a fair manner, distributing that food and water (so) it doesn’t cause a riot,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with Haitian-American leaders in Miami to reassure them of the administration’s commitment to Haiti.
“The president does not view this as a humanitarian mission with a life cycle of a month,” Biden said. “This is going to be a long slog.”
Napolitano noted that Haitians already in the U.S. would be allowed to remain for an additional 18 months, but warned that those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally would not be permitted to stay.
Also on January 16, President Obama turned to his predecessors, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, to lead an international fund raising effort. They set up a Web site, www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, to collect donations.
“The critical needs in Haiti are great, but they are also simple: food, water, shelter, and first-aid supplies. The best way concerned citizens can help is to donate funds that will go directly to supplying these material needs,” Bush and Clinton said in a joint letter.
Help save lives in Haiti: Visit the White House Web site for options. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides a service to help people find loved ones and the State Department has a Person Finder where people can post information about persons missing in Haiti.