- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

UPDATED:

President Obama on Wednesday pledged America’s “unwavering support” for Haiti after a massive 7.0 earthquake rocked the island’s capital of Port-au-Prince.

“The people of Haiti will have the full support of the Untied States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible,” given Haiti’s turbulent history.

Thousands are feared dead as the impoverished island nation — which experts say lacks adequate first-responder capabilities — struggles to rescue victims amid the widespread debris. The earthquake Tuesday is already known to have destroyed Haiti’s presidential palace and the headquarters of the U.N. mission.

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Saying the first hours after the disaster the most critical, Mr. Obama promised a “swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives,” including search-and-rescue teams and equipment from across the country.

“This rescue-and-recovery effort will be complex and challenging,” Mr. Obama said. “This must truly be an international effort.”

He encouraged Americans to go to the White House Web site for information on how to contribute to the relief effort.

Pentagon and State Department by mid-afternoon began to lay out the U.S. rescue-recovery efforts.

Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, in Miami, said an American general in Haiti told him the situation there is “calm” and that military planes and ships are en route to the disaster.

However, the extent of the damage remains unclear.

“We’re trying to get control and communicate to get a better understanding of what’s going on,” he said during a Pentagon press conference.

Gen. Fraser said response teams are first trying to secure the heavily damaged airport, which has a “functional” runway but a knock-out control tower and a damaged passenger terminal.

He said a Coast Guard cutter is headed to the island and that Navy carrier USS Carl Vincent, stationed in Norfolk, Va., will be there in a couple of days. He also said 2,000 to 3,500 Marine stand ready to be deployed to the island nation.

State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills said Coast Guard planes will arrive this afternoon.

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