WASHINGTON — The United States is sending first responders to Haiti to assist victims of a powerful earthquake, as part of a coordinated American response that includes the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security.
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said a disaster response team “will be going in today.”
Late Tuesday, President Barack Obama told members of his national security staff late Tuesday he expects “an aggressive, coordinated effort.” Obama said his thoughts and prayers were with the people of Haiti and said the U.S. stood ready to help the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The president prepared to make a public statement on the disaster at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and the State Department scheduled a briefing.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake caused thousands of buildings to collapse in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, trapping untold numbers in tons of rubble.
Deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon convened a meeting in the White House late Tuesday with senior representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Defense Department, U.S. Southern Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Homeland Security Department, the Coast Guard, and national security and White House staff to coordinate the government-wide response.
Former President Bill Clinton, who is U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said in a statement: “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. My U.N. office and the rest of the U.N. system are monitoring the situation, and we are committed to do whatever we can to assist the people of Haiti in their relief, rebuilding and recovery efforts.”
Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials in Miami mobilized cutters and aircraft to positions near Haiti to offer humanitarian assistance. At the same time, State set up a toll-free number to call for information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The department said some callers may receive a recording because of heavy volume of calls.
The State Department has also set up links on its Web site to facilitate donations to disaster relief agencies.
Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the United States, said there was “no way of estimating” the casualties.