U.S. joins international aid mobilization for Haiti quake victims

President Barack Obama set the U.S. government Wednesday on a massive rescue and relief operation in the devastated capital of Haiti, ordering the rapid mobilization of military and diplomatic assistance, and pledging an aggressive effort to save the lives of those caught in Tuesday's earthquake.

But even as U.S. agencies lined up to help, officials sounded a note of concern, saying they are deeply worried about whether Haiti's infrastructure can handle the influx. The island's airport and seaport sustained substantial damage in the temblor.

Obama said the first priorities for the United States are:

• Accounting for U.S. embassy personnel, their families, and U.S. citizens who live and work in Haiti. Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti were told to call the State Department toll-free at 1-888-407-4747.

• Mobilizing resources.

• Coordinating the U.S. government response. Led by Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, the effort will include the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State.

Here's how the U.S. is planning to help.

Search and rescue: Two teams — one from San Jose, Costa Rica, the other from Fairfax, Va. — flew to Haiti on Wednesday, each with 72 people trained in urban rescues. A third team, from Miami, was standing by, officials said.

Coast Guard: The cutter Forward arrived off Port-au-Prince Wednesday. It's equipped to coordinate military aircraft over Haiti with satellite communications. Another cutter, the Mohawk, was due to arrive later. Two Coast Guard C-130 planes arrived to fly up and down the coast looking for people needing help, while two Coast Guard helicopters arrived to provide rescue or other assistance, officials said. The Coast Guard is still assessing its ability to conduct fixed-wing flight operations from the airport. Aircraft — from Clearwater; Elizabeth, Va.; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and Panama — were aloft to conduct assessments.

Navy: The USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, was racing toward Haiti and expected to arrive this afternoon. The Norfolk-based carrier took on helicopters that are needed to provide critical air transport for relief workers. The hospital ship USNS Comfort may also be dispatched to provide relief. Other ships including destroyers are also moving toward Haiti.

Marines: A Navy amphibious assault ship was sent Wednesday, carrying a force of about 2,200 Marines — from Camp Lejeune — to help provide security, support the embassy or support humanitarian work.

Army: A more than 3,500-strong Army brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg has been placed on alert.

Air Force: Special Operations forces were expected to arrive Wednesday at the airport in Port-au-Prince to provide air traffic control capability as well as airfield operations.

The relief work will be a global effort. Here's what other nations have promised:

• The United Nations, $10 million

• Canada, $4.8 million and has put transport planes, helicopters, a hospital ship and a disaster response team on standby

• The Irish telecommunications company Digicel said it would donate $5 million to aid agencies and help repair the damaged phone network.

• The European Commission approved $4.37 million, with more funds likely.

• Spain, $4.37 million and three planes with rescue teams and 100 tons of equipment

• The Netherlands, $2.91 million and a 60-person search-and-rescue team

• Germany, $2.17 million and an immediate response team

• Denmark, $1.9 million

• Italy, $1.46 million

• China, $1 million

•Sweden, $850,000, along with tents, water purification equipment and medical aid

• Venezuela, doctors, firefighters and rescue workers

• Mexico, doctors, search-and-rescue dogs and damage experts

• France, two planes with doctors, food and equipment

• Britain, 64 firefighters with search-and-rescue dogs and 10 tons of equipment

• Iceland, 37 search-and-rescue specialists

• Taiwan, 23 rescue personnel and 2 tons of aid and equipment

• Israel, an elite army rescue unit, including engineers, rescue workers, doctors and medics.

• Cuba already had field hospitals on the ground.

U.S. joins international aid mobilization for Haiti quake victims 01/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 11:15pm]

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