President Obama promised quake battered Haitians today the U.S. will rush to their aid with a "swift, coordinated, and aggressive response."
He dispatched several U.S. ships to the area, including some which will be offshore of Haiti by today. U.S. planes flew over Haiti early today to help assess damage, and the president was briefed about Haiti the first thing this morning. In addition, he named U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah to coordinate American efforts.
"I pledge to the people of Haiti, you have a friend and partner in the United States," Obama said at a White House news conference.
Addressing Americans, he said, "We have to be there for them in their hour of need." He urged Americans, despite their own hard times, to go to www.whitehouse.gov to find out how they can contribute to Haitian relief funds.
Among the first U.S. units to arrive will be the U.S. Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing which will help to provide air traffic control at Port-au-Prince's crippled airport for the relief flights that are expected to rush supplies and personnel to Haiti.
Four U.S. Coast Guard cutters are due offshore today, loaded with food, water, and medical supplies. The Coast Guard also deployed reconnaissance planes early today to survey the damage across the island and locate possible staging areas.
A team of 30 specialists, including U.S. military engineers, operational planners, and communication specialists, will land in Port-au-Prince today aboard two C-130 Hercules aircraft.
In addition, the Navy's aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has been ordered to Haiti. It will pick up helicopters along the way which would facilitate ferrying supplies to Haiti and to areas outside the capital.
The Vinson is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti by Thursday afternoon.
Gen. Douglas Fraser said the U.S. was "really looking" at the possibility of sending troops to aid U.N. relief efforts. Fraser said that a brigade and other units were being put on alert. A brigade consists of between 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
Haitians in America Organizing Relief
He said that the United States was also considering sending a Marine amphibious ship with an expeditionary unit of 2,000 Marines that could land troops in coming days.
Also on the way are three search and rescue teams from Florida, Virginia and California. Virginia's Task Force 1, from Fairfax County, includes 72 personnel, six search and rescue dogs, as well as 48 tons of rescue equipment and supplies.
The Baltimore-based hospital ship the USS Comfort will head to Haiti with crucial medical supplies, but it will not arrive until next week.
In the meantime, communities of Haitian-Americans across the country are trying desperately to reach loved ones, assist with aid efforts, and mourn those that have already been lost.
Shamir Henry of the Bedford Haitian Community Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said no one he knows is able to get through to Haiti by phone. "There is no communication," he said. "I've been trying to contact my mother since last night, and it's been nothing. Right now, we're still in the dark."
Elsewhere in New York City, Fernando Mateo, head of the city's taxi driver federation, said his 60,000 members and the Bodegueros Association that represents 14,000 grocery owners were launching Operation Rescue Haiti. They are seeking the help of a major transportation company to deliver the goods.
In the Chicago suburb of Evanston, about 25 members of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti gathered to pray and make plans to help.
And in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, hundreds of school children gathered at the St. Mary's Cathedral for a special mass today.
The American Red Cross has promised an initial $200,000 of aid to Haiti and said on its website it will "take further action as local responders assess the situation." The Red Cross also said that it is sending relief supplies from a warehouse in Panama that should meet basic needs for 5,000 families.
CARE, which is based in Atlanta, Ga., already has 133 staff members on the ground and more on the way to distribute food, water, and hygiene kits to Haitians. They plan to start handing out a stock of high-protein biscuits that were already stored in CARE warehouses in the country.
Samaritan's Purse, a Christian aid organization, scheduled a cargo plane to fly from Florida today loaded with medicine, emergency shelter supplies, blankets, water filters, and a crew of doctors and relief workers. Another flight is scheduled for Thursday.