ABC News’ Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:
Speaking for the second time in as many days about the administration’s efforts in Haiti, President Obama today spoke directly to the people of Haiti.
“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten,” the president said. “In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you.”
The president called Haitians “a strong and resilient people” who have “endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today, you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way.”
The president announced the U.S. is making an initial $100 million investment to the relief efforts in Haiti, which he said “will mean more of the lifesaving equipment, food, water and medicine that will be needed. This investment will grow over the coming year as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy.”
Standing in the Diplomatic Reception Room, he was flanked by members of his national security team leading the administration’s coordinated response: Vice President Biden, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, US Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice, and US Agency for International Development Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.
“I’ve made it clear to each of these leaders that Haiti must be a top priority for their departments and agencies right now,” the president said. “This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership.”
The first waves of rescue and relief workers are on the ground and at work in Haiti, he reported.
The president has privately expressed some impatience with how long it has taken for rescue and relief workers and supplies to get to Haiti, which is roughly 700 miles from Florida.
“Even as we move as quickly as possible, it will take hours — and in many cases days — to get all of our people and resources on the ground,” he said, explaining that in Haiti right now “roads are impassable, the main port is badly damaged, communications are just beginning to come online, and aftershocks continue.”
He acknowledged that none of the relief efforts “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. But it’s important that everybody in Haiti understand, at this very moment one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history is moving towards Haiti. More American search and rescue teams are coming. More food. More water. Doctors, nurses, paramedics. More of the people, equipment and capabilities that can make the difference between life and death.”
The president outlined steps successfully taken: Overnight, the US government’s survey team worked to identify priority areas for assistance. Search-and-rescue teams are working on the ground. The US military has secured the airport and prepared it for the massive influx of resources and equipment. An airlift for high-priority items such water and medicine has been set up, and several Coast Guard cutters are providing basic supplies and technical equipment. A Marine expeditionary unit, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and the Navy’s hospital ship, the Comfort, are also on their way.
He has “no higher priority” than the safety of American citizens in Haiti, the president said.
“Even as we move as quickly as possible, it will take hours, and in many cases days, to get all of our people and resources on the ground,” Mr. Obama said, “you should know that we will not rest until we account for our fellow Americans in harm’s way.”
The president thanked those Americans who have contributed to the effort, and encouraged more to “summon the tremendous generosity and compassion of the American people.” He announced that Vice President Biden will travel to South Florida this weekend to visit with members of the Haitian-American community and the responders mobilized there to help the Haitian people.
As Mr. Obama left the room, he put his arm around Dr. Shah, the USAID administrator.
“Okay, make me proud, we got a lot of work to do,” he said.
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller