U.S., Haitian Officials Work Together on Quake Relief
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2010 Haitian and U.S. officials are working together to meet the challenges of the Port-au-Prince earthquake, State Department officials said here today.
The earthquake wiped out communications in the country and made coordination between U.S. and Haitian leaders difficult. Still, Haitian leaders are working with the international community to bring emergency aid into the nation, said Cheryl Mills, the State Department’s chief of staff.
“I am confident that (the Haitian) government is not looking for the United States to take over,” Mills said. “They are looking for a good partner, and I am confident that we will be that partner and we will provide the type of leadership necessary to support and bring together communities that are out there.”
Americans are making a difference on the ground. “Our first wave of responders are on the ground and have been actively engaged in search and rescue since last night,” said Rajiv Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Just over 250 Americans are working there right now, with many more on the way, he said.
USAAID is working with the United Nations, Canada, the United Kingdom and other partner nations to coordinate efforts. The agency also is working with nongovernmental organizations to capitalize on their expertise in providing trauma care and other medical services. “These will be able to provide the tertiary trauma support that’s needed,” Shah said.
The agency is shipping in food, water and other commodities, such as tarps, he said.
The American military is doing its part to alleviate the effects of the tragedy. U.S. servicemembers have opened the airport, and Coast Guard and Navy vessels are operating off the coast. In addition, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team has begun flowing into the country and will help to provide security. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and hospital ship USNS Comfort also will be deployed to Haiti.
“This is a significant effort that is first about saving lives in the critical first 72-hour period, and then laying the groundwork for providing access to critically needed commodities – medical services, food, water, water purification – and then laying the groundwork for re-building,” Shah said.
U.S. Southern Command and the Haitian government are operating the airport at Port-au-Prince around the clock to maximize the runway and ramp space at the facility. “There are going to be times when things do get jammed up there, but we are moving as fast as we can,” Shah said.
Teams at the airport are moving supplies and equipment from the field to the city as fast as they can. “Many of the urban search and rescue teams come with their own capabilities to get around and be self-sustaining and that’s important in this first 72-hour period,” the administrator said.
The magnitude 7 earthquake hit the evening of Jan. 12. Haitian officials said that roughly 2 million people live in an area within 10 miles of the quake’s epicenter. Port-au-Prince is the capital of the country and one of the largest cities in the Caribbean. Haitian officials have said they fear that the quake killed as many as 100,000 people.