- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

The United States on Wednesday began mobilizing a massive military and civilian response to Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, with dozens of other countries and organizations pledging aid as the number of dead was feared to exceed 100,000.

The impoverished island nation was still reeling from the aftershocks of the massive quake, with many still buried or trapped in demolished schools, hospitals and hillside shanties. Haitian-Americans in communities across the United States frantically tried to reach relatives back home.

Asked by a reporter how many people had died, President Rene Preval said Wednesday, “I don’t know,” adding, “up to now, I heard 50,000.”

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Among the victims of the catastrophe was Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, 65, the Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, whose body was found in the ruins of his office.

Hedi Annabi, the Tunisian diplomat who headed the United Nations mission in the Haitian capital, and his chief deputy, Luis Carlos da Costa, were among about 150 missing from the group’s headquarters.

International relief efforts, however, were expected to be difficult, because Haiti lacks sufficient emergency personnel and heavy equipment to move debris and bringing relief from abroad will be complicated by the limited airport operations in Port-au-Prince and the many roads blocked by ruins and fallen trees, officials said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was in Honolulu at the start of a lengthy South Pacific tour, decided Wednesday evening to cancel her trip to return to Washington to help coordinate U.S. relief efforts.

The Pentagon said the USS Carl Vinson was en route and should reach Haiti by Friday. The U.S. 2nd Fleet in Norfolk, Va., has ordered three amphibious ships to the country as soon as possible. The ships are the 844-foot-long USS Bataan, which can carry up to 2,000 Marines with helicopters, and two smaller vessels.

“It’s going to be our assessments that are going to determine, in conjunction with [the U.N. mission] and the other international partners who are there, how best to deal with any security situations that come up,” Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the State Department.

“We don’t know precisely what the situation is on the ground, he said. So we are leaning forward to provide as much capability as quickly as we can to respond to whatever the need is when we get there.”

He said the Pentagon is “seriously looking at” sending thousands of Marines to assist with disaster relief efforts and security in Haiti.

Raymond Alcide Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to Washington, said the death toll could exceed 100,000.

“I’m appealing to the world, especially the United States, to do what they did for us back in 2008 when four hurricanes hit Haiti,” he said in an interview on CNN. “At that time, the U.S. dispatched a hospital ship off the coast of Haiti. I hope that will be done again and help us in this dire situation that we find ourselves in.”

The United Nations said $10 million would be released immediately from the its central emergency response fund and it would organize a flash appeal to raise more money for Haiti over the next few days. France sent two planes with rescuers and humanitarian aid to its former colony, and other countries offered assistance.

But U.N. officials also were reeling from the news that the world body’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince had been ravaged by the quake, with as many as 100 U.N. employees trapped in the rubble of their headquarters.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that efforts to contact Mr. Annabi, his special representative in Haiti, had been unsuccessful. Mr. Annabi had been conducting a meeting with a visiting group from China when the quake struck, Mr. Ban said.

The U.S. Southern Command deployed a team of 30 military engineers, operational planners, and a command and control group and communication specialists, on two C-130 Hercules aircraft.

President Obama promised an all-out effort to help Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

“The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United 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.”

Saying the first hours after the disaster are 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.

Mr. Ban said he had asked his special envoy for Haiti, former President Bill Clinton, to travel to Port-au-Prince immediately. Mr. Clinton said the first order of business for the relief efforts will be to find any survivors under the ruins while they are still alive. He appealed to people from around the world to donate any amount of money they can afford.

“What we need now is water, food, shelter and medical supplies,” Mr. Clinton said in New York. “We have 1,000 details to work out.”

Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday ordered 80 nonessential U.S. Embassy staff in Haiti, as well as dependents, to leave the country. Several injured embassy employees were flown to a U.S. military hospital at the base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The State Department said at least 66 Americans had made their way to the American Embassy in Haiti for medical attention.

The five-story U.N. headquarters collapsed Tuesday, as did scores of other government and residential buildings, including the presidential palace and the parliament. The 7.0 magnitude quake was the most powerful in Haiti in more than a century, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The epicenter was about 10 miles from the capital, which is home to about 4 million people. Many slept outside on the ground overnight, away from weakened walls, as aftershocks as powerful as magnitude 5.9 rattled the city throughout the night and into Wednesday.

Gen. Fraser said the military is sending units to get Port-au-Prince’s airport secured and operating again. Although the airport is considered operational, its tower and other operations were damaged, and only one runway is open, which limits the number of flights with relief personnel and supplies that can land there, he said.

The University of Miami School of Medicine sent a planeload of doctors and nurses to set up a field hospital and planned to fly a group of critically injured people back to Florida for treatment Wednesday.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said its three hospitals in Haiti were unusable and it was treating the injured at temporary shelters.

“The reality of what we are seeing is severe traumas, head wounds, crushed limbs, severe problems that cannot be dealt with with the level of medical care we currently have available with no infrastructure really to support it,” said Paul McPhun, operations manager for the group’s Canadian section.

Catholic Relief Services committed an initial $5 million to help survivors.

The International Rescue Committee said it was deploying an emergency response team to Haiti to deliver urgent assistance to earthquake survivors and help overwhelmed local aid groups struggling to meet the immense emergency needs.

• Kara Rowland contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

Kara Rowland contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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