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US Launches Major Response to Haiti Earthquake

  • Meredith Buel

Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, takes a question during a Pentagon news conference on earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti, 13 Jan, 2010

Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, takes a question during a Pentagon news conference on earthquake-relief efforts in Haiti, 13 Jan, 2010

The United States has launched a major civilian and military response to the massive earthquake in Haiti, which has flattened buildings in much of the capital, and left a devastating toll of death and destruction. We have details of the American rescue and relief effort in this report from Washington.

The emergency response is being led by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, who says the immediate objective is to save lives following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti.

"We are working aggressively and in a highly coordinated way, across the federal government, to bring all of the assets and capacities we have to bear to quickly and effectively provide as much assistance as possible," said Rajiv Shah. "The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives."

Shah says disaster relief teams are assessing the damage, identifying priority sites and will direct the efforts of two search and response teams trained to rescue victims trapped by the rubble of buildings that collapsed during the quake.

"Both are units with 72 individuals, people who have significant training and significant equipment and technical capacity to conduct search-and-rescue in urban settings, to drill through and clear, as much as is possible, rubble, in order to try and identify individuals that can be saved and continue with the mission of saving lives," he said.

The U.S. military is sending teams in C-130 aircraft for the immediate relief mission. The initial deployment includes engineers, communications specialists and units to secure and operate the airport in Port-au-Prince.

The head of U.S. Southern Command, Air Force General Douglas Fraser, says Navy and Coast Guard ships carrying helicopters that can be used in rescue missions are on the way.

"They have limited humanitarian assistance supplies on them, but they have some vertical lift capability, some helicopters with them," said General Fraser. "In addition, we're moving the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson from Norfolk to the vicinity. It will take on a complement of helicopters as it proceeds. And we're hoping to have that in the vicinity of Haiti tomorrow afternoon.

General Fraser says thousands of troops, including a contingent of U.S. Marines, may soon be sent to assist with disaster relief and security in Haiti.

"The ship that I was talking about where there may be is a large deck amphibious ship," he said. "That's another day or two away. And so, it will have a standard Marine Expeditionary Unit. Don't tie me to this precise number. It's roughly 2,000 Marines potentially on there. But we're still determining that right now."

Fraser says the amphibious ship has a significant medical capacity to help treat survivors of the earthquake.

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