Washington (CNN) – The coordinator for U.S. assistance to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake said Wednesday the entire government is marshalling a massive response, with the immediate goal of saving as many lives as possible within the next 72 hours.
"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, Administrator for the US Agency for International Development.
President Barack Obama tapped Shah, who was sworn in just last week, with leading "a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives" in Haiti after that country's powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
"We are in the process of trying to generate as many potential options and put as many assets as we have into where they could potentially be used quickly and efficiently to achieve that goal," Shah said.
To that end, Shah said USAID would have a 15-member disaster response team (DART) on the ground in Haiti Thursday "doing surveillance, collecting data, identifying priority sites" and guiding the search and rescue effort. Two 72-member search and rescue teams were en route to Haiti with equipment and technology to begin operations.
A third search and rescue team was to be leaving from Miami and agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security are trying to identify additional units, he said.
Shah said the Haitian government has identified search and rescue, medical services and communications as immediate priorities, but that USAID was also examining examining "critical needs" for Haiti in areas like health and food, water, transportation, and infrastructure.
"Our team, which includes members from every agency in the federal government that has the capacity to help, is working to develop plans and put resources in place so that we can effectively respond to some of the requests that have come from the Haitian leadership and from our teams on the ground," Shah said.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said the airport is "functional," but capacity is limited with only one airfield, one runway and limited ramp space.
The United States is also trying to help the UN, which maintains a peacekeeping force and large development staff in Haiti. As many as 100 UN employees are missing. Many are believed to be in the rubble of UN headquarters, which collapsed during the earthquake.
Although the situation on the ground remains calm, Fraiser said United States is exploring how it can help the UN maintain law and order in the country, including the possibility of deploying a large-deck amphibious ship with Marines onboard.
"That is a significant concern that we have with security, so we're working with MINUSTA and then doing the assessment to understand what kind of follow-on capability we're going to need," he said about the United Nations force, noting that the Deputy Commander of the Southern Command is currently on the ground in Haiti.
Several US ships from the Coast Guard and Pentagon are en route to Haiti, and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is headed to Haiti from Virgina and should arrive in the vicinity Thursday with a number of helicopters. Fraiser said the US has put "put various forces around the armed forces on alert, so that as we get the assessments in we are postured to move those forces in an expeditious manner."
Because the US embassy is one of the few structures that remains intact, State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills told reporters, it has become a point of support, where Americans and Haitians who are able to reach it can receive medical assistance. Additionally, the United States has been able to maintain good communications, and is leading coordination efforts among other countries and international NGOs willing to provide assistance.
Mills said the United States is trying to get in touch with the roughly 45,000 U.S. citizens in Haiti to see what help they need.
There have been no confirmed deaths of Americans, but about a dozen injuries have been reported. Eight of the injured are US personnel, four of them seriously wounded and medevaced out by the US Coast Guard.
The US has also ordered the departure of approximately 80 embassy spouses, children, and non-essential personnel. Mills said the evacuations will begin Wednesday to ensure that all resources are "properly concentrated on those who are in need."
The true essence of our humanity is tested , not during days of wealth and prosperity, but during the days of tragedy. Events like this remind us that hate , anger, bickering is useless...it is evident we are NOT invincible.
So for those who pray to a God,open your eyes and realize that our purpose to help one another. We all belong to one another.
Pass health care with public option, pass environmental laws and find ways to build on our similarities rather than differences.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti.
Where are the Haitians going to spend money??????. Wouldn't goods like canned goods, towels, clothes, water , make more sense? . By the time this country converts money into goods my children will be grandparents
unlike Katrina this president is on it.!
it seems like in times of crisis the truely religious peole come togeather to offer help. They don't argue about how long it took to respond or how little they have to give , or what was given on the last disaster. They just pitch in and help knowing time is important to save lives. Reading some of the comments made about the response time of the president and comparing it to the xmas bomber. Make me sick. So many people are already complaining about why we are not helping more at home. I bet these are your Christian rightwing nut jobs. A whole nation not just a town is in disaster. Possiably over 100,000. dead! It saddens me to see so many in this country thinking only of themselves. If you truly want a blessing then give what you can and God will reward you. Isn't that what true giving is all about. That's what the Bible says. Remember that book?
Obama merely read a teleprompter, let's see how long it takes him to effect real action. Bush also made speeches – even before the hurricane, and so the "5 day" comparison is completely erroneous.
BTW, it took Barry many, many months to even visit New Orleans, and that happened only after another riot almost broke out because of his indifference. Remember, once the loony Dems have your vote, you then become irrelevant - until the next election time. When was Barry in Detroit (his own 'New Orleans') last...?