- 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.

“We’re looking forward to giving all of the support we can bear,” she said.

Ms. Mills also said communication is still “very limited” but that officials know the U.S. embassy is in tact and “a number of injuries” exist among the roughly 45,000 U.S. citizens in Haiti.

She said the Coast Guard planes will assist in the immediate evacuation of at least 80 Americans.

Congressional leaders quickly offered their condolences.

Haiti’s families have endured the hardship and devastation of storms and hurricanes in recent years, driving the nation — already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere — deeper into poverty and creating new challenges for their economic future,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said. “The United States and members of Congress remain committed to helping the Haitian people recover from this latest disaster and rebuild their homes, communities and lives in the days and weeks to come.”

Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, likewise said: House Republicans are deeply saddened by the tremendous loss of life that has occurred in Haiti, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the victims, particularly those who have lost children. I am pleased that the United States and our allies are already providing assistance to help prevent additional loss of life and deliver relief to those in need.

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