Jan. 16, 2010— -- Amid growing despair and desperation in Haiti, President Obama today enlisted his two presidential predecessors to lead an ongoing American effort to help that country recover from Tuesday's devastating earthquake.
Obama, flanked by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush behind a podium in the White House Rose Garden, said Americans must "do their part" to see that Haiti gets help.
"Every day that goes by, we learn more about the horrifying scope of this catastrophe -- destruction and suffering that defies comprehension, entire communities buried under mountains of concrete, families sleeping in the streets, injured desperate for care, many thousands feared dead," Obama said.
"Those wrenching scenes of devastation remind us not only of our common humanity but also of our common responsibilities," he added. "This time of suffering can and must be a time of compassion."
The "most effective way for people to help the people of Haiti is to contribute money," former President Bush said, and they can do so via a new relief Web site set up to help fund the ex-presidents' effort, www.clintonbushhaitifund.org.
"That money will go to groups on the ground who will be able to effectively spend it," Bush said. "I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash. One of the things that the president and I will do is to make sure your money is spent wisely."
Homeless and Sleeping on the Streets
But today, Haitians continued to suffer amid logistical obstacles. Loved ones remained buried under rubble, rescue crews were stretched thin and emergency aid stockpiles at the Port-au-Prince airport were moving slowly, if at all, to people most in need.
With nowhere else to go, Haitians in Port-au-Prince slept overnight in the city streets, families huddling together in makeshift tents as loved ones remained buried under rubble.
Aftershocks continued to shake Haiti. A 4.5-magnitude aftershock shook Port-au-Prince this morning and briefly halted rescue efforts.
While some people have been rescued from the ruins, hope is fading fast for many still trapped since Tuesday's earthquake.
Today, the body of the United Nations' Haiti mission chief, Hedi Annabi, was found in the rubble of the local U.N. headquarters.
There was some good news Friday just before sunset, as an Australian television crew helped pull a 16-month-old child from wreckage after her screams could be heard from under her two-story collapsed home.
"It is very emotional," one of the rescuers said. "Honestly, I actually thought that it was my own baby that I was pulling out of there."
But many have not made it. Some estimates of the death toll have ranged well beyond 100,000, though reliable numbers have been hard to come by amid the confusion.
Fifteen Americans have been confirmed dead, the State Department reported today, and that number was expected to rise. There also were 23 Americans seriously injured and three U.S. officials among the missing.
Haitians have begun burying their dead -- perhaps as many as 40,000 -- in mass graves, with the largest outside Port-au-Prince.
Haitian authorities estimate as many as one million people are homeless and 250,000 are wounded.
Clinton Shares Fond Memories of Haiti
Money is needed for the short- and long-term recoveries, said former President Bill Clinton, now the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti.
"Right now, all we need to do is get food and medicine and water and a secure place for them to be," he said. "But when we start the rebuilding effort, we want to do what I did with the president's father [George H.W. Bush] in the tsunami area. We want to be a place where people can know their money will be well spent; where we will ensure the ongoing integrity of the process. And we want to stay with this over the long run."
Clinton said he and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who consulted with Haiti's president in Port-au-Prince today, said he has a personal attachment to Haiti beyond his official U.N. capacity as envoy.
"I was in those hotels that collapsed," Bill Clinton said. "I had meals with people who are dead. The cathedral church that Hillary and I sat in 34 years ago is a total rubble.
"But," he added, "it is still one of the most remarkable, unique places I have ever been. And they can escape their history and build a better future if we do our part. And President Obama, thank you for giving us a chance to do a little of that."