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WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2010 – Defense Department officials are coordinating with their State Department counterparts to provide life-saving assistance in Haiti as quickly as possible after a devastating earthquake struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince yesterday afternoon.
U.S. Southern Command is coordinating with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to assess the situation after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake left perhaps thousands of people dead and many more trapped beneath collapsed buildings, officials reported.
Command officials said they will deploy a team of 30 people to Haiti today including military engineers, operational planners, and a command and control group and communication specialists on two Puerto Rico Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft. The team will work with U.S. Embassy personnel as well as Haitian, United Nations and other officials to assess the situation to provide follow on support.
The Navy’s P-3 Orions made initial overflight assessments of damage on the ground, President Barack Obama announced this morning, and U.S. and rescue teams arriving in Haiti will use the information to plan their response.
Defense Department officials are looking at all ground, air and naval assets available to support the mission, if needed, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is leading U.S. disaster relief efforts, and Southcom will serve a supporting role to its efforts, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Heidi Lenzini, a Southcom public affairs officer, explained.
Obama expressed condolences to those lost or affected by the tragedy, and promised unwavering U.S. support.
“I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives,” the president said this morning. “The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief – the food, water and medicine – that Haitians will need in the coming days.”
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed similar sentiments today during a suicide-prevention conference sponsored by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments.
“The United States is going to do all we can to help, and we’ve worked throughout the night to figure out how we can do that and do it as rapidly as possible,” Mullen said. “We have an awful lot of people working in that direction right now.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered assurance of full U.S. support yesterday while visiting the East-West Center in Honolulu.
“The United States is offering our full assistance to Haiti and to others in the region,” she said. “We will be providing both civilian and military disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. And our prayers are with the people who have suffered, their families and their loved ones.”
The military last rallied to help Haiti in September 2008 after a series of hurricanes left flooding and mudslides in their wake, Lenzini noted. The USS Kearsarge, an amphibious ship on a humanitarian mission in Colombia at the time, diverted to Haiti in response. Its crew remained in Haiti for 19 days, using helicopters and amphibious landing craft to deliver 3.3 million pounds of internationally donated aid to communities isolated by flooding, and mudslides and damaged roads.
USNS Comfort, a hospital ship home-ported in Baltimore, visited Haiti in April, the first stop during its four-month Continuing Promise 2009 humanitarian assistance mission through Latin America and the Caribbean.
Comfort’s crew of medical professionals from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and U.S. Public Health Service, as well as about a dozen nongovernmental organizations and international partners, provided a full range of medical care to Haitian citizens.