VIA: New York Times
WASHINGTON —President Obama promised $100 million for the relief effort in Haiti on Thursday morning, vowing that the United States would stand with the impoverished nation as it counted what could be tens of thousands of dead and grappled with the devastation of the Tuesday earthquake.
In an emotional address from the White House Diplomatic Reception room, Mr. Obama promised that amount was only a first installment and that financial assistance would increase over the coming year. “I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti,” Mr. Obama said. He paused for a moment.
“You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten,” he said. “In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”
While Mr. Obama said that his first priority was to ensure the safety of Americans in Haiti, his address Thursday, coming as estimates of the death toll have become increasingly more grim, appeared intended to provide some measure of solace for Haitians.
“It’s important that everyone in Haiti understands this,” Mr. Obama said. “More American search and rescue teams are coming. More food, more water.”
Within Haiti and beyond, the driving urgency of the last 36 hours was only growing.
The main morgue in Port-au-Prince was completely full, and hundreds of bodies were piled up outside and abandoned. The dead included some people who had been waiting on the grounds of an adjacent hospital in vain attempts to get treatment. When they died, their bodies were simply dragged next door to the morgue.
Workers from a couple of police pickup trucks — the first police vehicles seen on the streets of the capital for the first time since the quake — were busy picking up corpses. The Haitian Red Cross offered a cautious and rough estimate of the possible death toll. “No one knows with precision, no one can confirm a figure, Victor Jackson, an assistant national coordinator with Haiti’s Red Cross, said, according to Reuters. “Our organization thinks between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.”
Foreign aid workers trying to deliver supplies faced a logistical nightmare. Power was still out, telecommunications rarely functioning. Most medical facilities had been severely damaged, if not leveled. Supplies of food and fresh water dwindling.
Ships could not bring their cargos of supplies into Haiti’s damaged port; roads were blocked not only by debris but by people with no safe shelter to retreat to.
Flights were severely limited at Port-au-Prince’s main airport. Still, airplanes loaded with rescuers and search teams, food and medical supplies were landing, and supplies were also filtering in from the Dominican Republic.
In interviews with American television stations, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was working as fast as possible to move aid to Haiti,
Mrs. Clinton told NBC’s “Today” program that 3 million people — about a third of Haiti’s population — had been affected by the quake, and that “there will be tens of thousands of casualties — we don’t have any exact numbers.”
She said helping the country rebuild from the quake would be a “long-term effort.”
“We’re going to do everything we can with our resources,” she said. “We have a full-court press going on here.”
Haiti’s president, René Préval, called the death toll “unimaginable” as, in the first 24 hours of the quake, he surveyed the wreckage, which included his own residence, the presidential palace. Schools, hospitals and a prison collapsed.
As of Wednesday, the United Nations confirmed that 16 peacekeepers had been killed and as many as 200 workers were missing, including the chief of its mission, Hédi Annabi. The city’s archbishop, Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, was feared dead.
“Please save my baby!” Jeudy Francia, a woman in her 20s, shrieked outside the St.-Esprit Hospital in the city on Wednesday. Her child, a girl about 4 years old, writhed in pain in the hospital’s chaotic courtyard, near where a handful of bodies lay under white blankets. “There is no one, nothing, no medicines, no explanations for why my daughter is going to die.”
A Red Cross field team of officials from several nations had to spend Wednesday night in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to gather its staff before taking the six-hour drive in the morning across the border to the earthquake zone.
“We were on the plane here with a couple of different agencies, and they all are having similar challenges of access,” Colin Chaperon, a field director for the American Red Cross, said in a telephone interview. “There is a wealth of resources out there, and everybody has the good will to go in and support the Haitian Red Cross.”
The quake struck just before 5 p.m. Tuesday about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, ravaging the infrastructure of Haiti’s fragile government and destroying some of its most important cultural symbols.
“Parliament has collapsed,” Mr. Préval told The Miami Herald. “The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”
He added: “All of the hospitals are packed with people. It is a catastrophe.”
Aid agencies said they would open their storehouses of food and water in Haiti, and the World Food Program was flying in nearly 100 tons of ready-to-eat meals and high-energy biscuits from El Salvador. The United Nations said it was freeing up $10 million in emergency relief money, the European Union pledged $4.4 million, and groups like Doctors Without Borders were setting up clinics in tents and open-air triage centers to treat the injured.
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