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U.S. to Dispatch Search Teams, Emergency Supplies to Haiti

Early Wednesday morning, the U.S. government planned to take an aerial assessment of the damage in Haiti’s earthquake zone near the capital Port-au-Prince and send search and rescue teams, along with food, water and temporary shelters.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that the U.S. Southern Command will fly reconnaissance planes over Haiti at first light, to get comprehensive sense of the damage. Central Haiti appears unscathed, he said, but the United States can’t be sure of the whole picture until they get a view from the air.

Officials also planned to get an assessment of the usability of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, and how quickly the U.S. can flow people into the country. The U.S. Embassy reports that the tarmac appears to be in working condition, but it is unclear what the status is of lights, air traffic control, etc.

The Southern Command is also identifying Coast Guard cutters in the area, and sea-craft with helicopter lift capability.

The emphasis on Wednesday will be on sending search and rescue teams, plus water, sanitation and shelter to the region, along with enlisting helicopters to deliver the supplies because of the poor condition of roads, said Crowley.

Another priority, he continued, will be flying out Americans and others in need to urgent medical care, and assessing what the situation is at hospitals. Some 45,000 Americans live in Haiti, whom embassy personnel are trying to reach.

Haitian police are out in the street in some areas, “so the government appears to be functioning,” Crowley added, although damaged infrastructure is making communication with the Haitian government difficult.

A press release from the U.S. Agency for International Development says it is dispatching a Disaster Assistance Response Team and has activated its partner search and rescue teams from Fairfax County, Virginia, and Los Angeles County. The teams are made up of 72 personnel, six search and rescue dogs and up to 48 tons of equipment.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah issued the following statement:

“This is a tragic situation and we will work alongside the Haitian government to provide immediate assistance in the rescue effort. On behalf of the American people, I wish to convey our sympathy, thoughts and prayers to the people of Haiti who have been affected by this devastating earthquake.”

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