WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama welcomed Haitian President Rene Preval to the White House on Wednesday, pledging that as it rebuilds, the earthquake-wracked country "will continue to have a steady and reliable partner in the United States of America."
"America's commitment to Haiti's recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure," Obama said. "America will be your partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort."
Preval called the damage to his country from the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people, "unimaginable," but he noted that the response from the international community — "from Asia to Africa, from the United States, from Canada, from all of Latin America, from the Caribbean, from Europe, all the way to the Middle East — thanks to its swiftness, thanks to its size, was commensurate with the disaster."
The two presidents met privately in the Oval Office before delivering remarks to a crowd that included aid workers, members of Congress and Haitian-Americans from across the country.
Obama said Preval offered an update on the progress of recovery "and the daunting challenges ahead in a disaster that, even now, defies comprehension." The InterAmerican Development Bank has pegged the recovery cost at $14 billion.
Obama noted that on the scale of Haiti's loss, "it's as if the United States, in a terrible instant, lost nearly 8 million people," or that 100 million Americans "suddenly had no home, no food, or water."
The two were joined in the Rose Garden by officials with some of the U.S. agencies that responded to the quake, including representatives of the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency and Management Agency, and the departments of health and human services, transportation and defense.
Also in attendance were volunteer physicians, nurses and paramedics, and members of the urban search and rescue teams who pulled survivors out of the wreckage.