Obama says US stands with Haiti, pledges $100M aid
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama said today that "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history" is moving toward Haiti as he continued to mobilize the U.S. response to the island's devastating earthquake.
Obama said the U.S. government is initially directing $100 million toward the relief effort, a figure he said would certainly grow over the year. "This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership," he said.
The death of one American citizen from Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake was confirmed, with three others known to be missing, said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. The State Department is not releasing the identity of the dead American, pending notification of next of kin.
Crowley said the U.S. embassy has made contact with nearly 1,000 American citizens in Haiti, only a small fraction of the estimated 45,000 Americans in the country.
The first U.S. Army infantry troops -- a little more than 100 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division -- are heading to Haiti, due to leave Fort Bragg in North Carolina later today. The troops will find locations to set up tents and other essentials in preparation for the arrival of another roughly 800 personnel from the division on Friday.
They come on top of some 2,200 Marines, also to be sent, as the military ramps up what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called "a full court press" to provide earthquake relief in the form of security, search and rescue, and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. Obama said more than a half dozen U.S. military ships also are expected to help, with the largest, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, arriving today, and the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort also deployed.
But, aware that mishandling disaster can quickly become a liability for a president, he warned pre-emptively that it will take hours "and in many cases days" to get the full U.S. relief contingent on the ground, because of the badly damaged roads, airport, port and communications.
"None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who's trapped, if you're sleeping on the streets, if you can't feed your children," Obama said. "So today, you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way."
As a start, the president said the U.S. military has secured the severely damaged airport in Port-au-Prince, preparing it to receive round-the-clock deliveries of heavy equipment and emergency supplies being flown in from the United States and countries around the world.
Sensitive to questions about whether the U.S. would need -- or choose -- to essentially take over Haiti's now almost-nonexistent civil and governmental structure, the State Department spokesman stressed that U.S. troops sent to Haiti will be under U.S. command but there to augment and support the United Nations mission.
"We're not taking over Haiti," Crowley said. "We are helping to stabilize Haiti, we're helping to provide them lifesaving support and materiel and we're going to be there over the long term to help Haiti rebuild. But, the key is: we are maintaining constant contact with the Haitian government even given the difficult situation. What we're doing is following the priorities that the Haitian government has outlined for us."