Washington (CNN) – The retired general who took charge in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina said Thursday the U.S. military should have arrived in earthquake-devastated Haiti 24 hours earlier.
"The good Samaritans who moved early on the first day are to be applauded. They made a difference," Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told CNN.
"What we've got to do now is get the heavy equipment in. I thought the U.S. military could have been there a day earlier. They're on the ground now, and they have a brigade en route and that's going to make a big difference," he said.
Honore, best known for his management of the recovery efforts following the hurricane that killed about 2,000 people on the Gulf Coast, said "time is of the essence" in helping quake survivors.
Repairing the port at Port-au-Prince, Haiti's airport, and keeping the airport open 24 hours a day are key to bringing in equipment, food, water and medicine, Honore said.
Referring to the airport, he said, "You need to put the right commander there who's going to be a battle captain and keep those aircraft flowing. You come in, you drop off what you have, you put the sick and wounded on and then move out. No one is standing any time on the airfield. You can be in and out in a half hour."
At the White House news conference, a reporter asked spokesman Robert Gibbs if President Barack Obama was pleased with the pace of the U.S. response in Haiti.
"I think the president is pleased, but took the beginning of the meeting last night to remind all of us that precious lives were at stake; that time was of the essence; that he expected the team to continue to work around the clock as they - honestly - as they've done literally since we first got word of this many hours ago," Gibbs said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley defended the pace of the rescue.
"We are 40 hours into the crisis. In that time we have reopened the airport and brought it up to 24/7 operations. We continue to look at the port facility, which will be critical to be able to bring in substantial amounts of aid, and we're trying to figure out a strategy for how to function," he said in a briefing.
"We now have multiple search and rescue units on the ground. They're already at work," Crowley added.
"Logistics matters. You have an airport with a single runway. So we have things that are queued up. You're going to see a significant increase in the flow but there is a capacity issue," he said.
In the afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that Haiti had suspended flights into the Port-au-Prince airport because ramp space - where aircraft are parked, unloaded, loaded, refueled or boarded - was too crowded. There also was no fuel, said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.
Several military units planned to leave during the day, but it was unclear whether all were able to.
Among those apparently delayed was a battalion of more than 100 soldiers from the XVIII Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
They had planned to fly out Thursday afternoon.
Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, also based at Fort Bragg, were on their way to Haiti, said Rajiv Shah, coordinator for U.S. assistance to the stricken area. He also is administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The 82nd was deployed to New Orleans, Louisiana, in the aftermath of Katrina.
The first of about 3,500 paratroopers were to board C-17 aircraft from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and were expected to arrive in Haiti before nightfall. On Friday, another 800 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are to deploy.
A liaison team of Airborne personnel arrived at the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Miami Wednesday night to help with the planning effort. The Southern Command is leading the Department of Defense's quake response.
More soldiers from Fort Bragg are prepared to leave if called upon, according to a news release from the base.
"Our units are highly trained and ready to respond to crises such as this tragic event in Haiti and fully prepared to support the mission as long as required to do so," the release said.
The U.S. government confirmed Thursday the first American fatality. Crowley refused to identify the victim. He told reporters the victim's family was being notified. Another person believed to have died in the quake was identified by his school in Iowa, but there was no official confirmation.
Obama promised $100 million in immediate American relief aid to Haiti - an amount the president said will grow in the year ahead.
"This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership," he said at the White House. "One of the largest relief efforts in our recent history" is now en route to Haiti.
Obama said he had "made it clear" to his national security team that Haitian relief efforts must be "a top priority for their departments and agencies right now."
Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the coming 24 hours "critical to save those lives that can be saved" and said on CNN's "American Morning" that "we're moving as quickly as possible."
"Once we can get communications up so we can tell people where to go, what kind of help they can expect, we'll be able to better manage the crisis," Clinton said. The United States is providing a communications network to shore up the battered Haitian infrastructure, she added.
The powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck late Tuesday afternoon was centered about 10 miles (15 km) southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, which bore the brunt of the destruction.
In addition to the uncounted thousands of dead, thousands are feared trapped under collapsed buildings, and many thousands more survived but were injured, overwhelming doctors.
Clinton said Port-au-Prince hospitals collapsed in the quake and the few facilities still open can't handle all the needs.
The aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson was en route to Haiti with helicopters that can move aid containers and construction equipment to places where they are needed.
The United Nations and a growing list of countries and nonprofit groups were dispatching medical supplies, facilities, and personnel, and Clinton said the logistics of the effort are a challenge.
"This is a large area involving many, many, many millions of people who have been cut off from access. Just getting to people to provide the medical assistance they need is proving to be very difficult," she said.
The port was demolished by the quake, which left behind huge chunks of concrete that blocked the road to truck and other traffic, CNN's Chris Lawrence reported from the site. A major hurdle will face those trying to transfer supplies from the ships to the people who need them, he said.
Clinton said the United States is providing security help to the the United Nations, which was "equally devastated by the collapse of its headquarters" for its peacekeeping force in Haiti. As many as 150 of its personnel are missing.
She said a contingent of 2,000 Marines, under the Southern Command, will help the international peacekeepers who have served as police in Haiti, which doesn't have an army.
One of the team's first jobs has been to get the Port-au-Prince airport working at a level to handle all the flights coming in filled with people and supplies. The control tower was damaged, but Clinton said a military team reopened the airport so it can handle heavy planes.
Obama said Thursday the Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, was being deployed. The vessel is expected to be ready to go by Monday at the latest. It will take five days to sail to Haiti. The ship is staffed by a crew of 64 and 560 hospital personnel.
Shah said the Haitian government has designated search-and-rescue efforts, medical services and communications as immediate priorities.
"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.
State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills told reporters that because the U.S. Embassy is one of the few structures that remains intact, it has become a point of support, providing medical assistance for Americans and Haitians who are able to reach it.
Mills said the United States has been trying to contact the approximately 45,000 U.S. citizens in Haiti to see what they need. It has ordered the departure of embassy families and nonessential personnel.
We're a little busy killing the Muslims to have the resources to save Haitian lives on day one.
How long did it take Bush/Chaney to react to the flooding in New Orleans? How about several days. Shut your face if you don't know what you're talking about.
......Being, former military myself. Granted, your a general...But get a grip. Our miltary is streched pretty thin. If you recall, we have two wars going on at present. After all Haiti, is a former french colony. Let them help also........................As well, as the rest of the World.
The US cannot be the only responder to the world.
What is he talking about? Why is he considered an authority? Katrina was a catastrophe because no one arrived timely and that was here on US soil. Why is he even being interviewed?
Oh goody, another failure of the previous administration jumping up and down to claim the current administration is wrong.
Not too particular about the subject, but if it's Obama, it just HAS to be wrong.
You cannot please everyone even in times of tragedy. There are folks that keep complaining instead of acting. ( I already donated to American Red Cross)
I think our Government has responded admirably. We are helping another nation and it does take time to get supplies/ resources together.
Americans are probably the first to help.
Can somebody put a zipper on Limbaugh and Pat Robertsons' mouths...This tragedy should make us all realize this can happen to any of us ( Black,white, yellow, red, catholic, protestant, jew, hindu, muslim) . This is a test for all humanity! Are we to be compassionate and giving or turn our heads? Seeing those children orphaned and hurting should break anyone's heart. Unless it is of stone ( Like Limbaugh's).
Wha? That's simply untrue.
"The Coast Guard cutter Forward was at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba when the earthquake hit on Tuesday, causing the 270-foot ship to rock back and forth even though it was more than 200 miles from the epicenter. The Forward arrived in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday morning, the first American military ship on the scene"
Shoulda, coulda, woulda.... blah, blah, blah. Is it in the Republican mantra to constantly point fingers and blame? 24 hours earlier??!! The quake happened on the evening of the 12th, the military arrived the morning of the 14th. So..., let me get this straight, they should have arrived the following morning? I didn't realize that a massive, military contingency could mobilize that quickly. That CERTAINLY didn't happen after Katrina.., took three days if memory serves. Quite an improvement. Good work Mr. Prez and all involved.
Katrina, ample warning to get out of town. People chose to stay, God knows why. Sadly some died for that poor decision.
Haiti, earthquakes give no warning. Thus these people could not leave. There is a big difference.
Sounds like somebody's a little miffed he wasn't put in charge of this. There is one airport near the centre of this quake, with very limited resources. The roads to the city have been damaged so it is almost impossible to get supplies in from the other airports in the Dominican Republic. They should limit media planes because they take up air space and landing space and except for Dr. Gupta, the journalists are not rolling up their sleeves to help. They should put down the microphones and help dig out people or remove debris from blocked roads. Repeating the same heartbreaking reports and showing the horror is important throughout the day but not necessarily 24/7. This disaster is completely opposite to Katrina. New Orleans was in a state with several other airports and the nearby states also had huge airports. The highways from these airports led directly to the outskirts of the flooding. Getting supplies there should have been hundreds of time easier and faster than getting them into a poor island with a tiny airport and no gas to refuel the planes. Most of the Haitians interviewed have been so thankful for the amazing support from the US and other countries. This general should be trying to get on a rescue plane and get over there to do some good not criticize those who are doing their best in an almost impossible situation.
Blame it on Bush! The Truth is there ain't anything instantly done in government despite the need or rhetoric !
It's not like we have aircraft sitting around loaded with relief supplies. This guy is a moron. The airport in Porta Prince is small with limited parking. This will take coordination and mostly ships to do the job. It is a horrible thing that happened don't politicize other peoples problems. We are a country that suppose to be hated yet are the most generous. Lets see the rest of the world that calls us evil people who torture step up. They won't.
Willy Brown January 14th, 2010 4:58 pm ET
Obama is too worried about ramming health care down Americas throat that's why.
We can always count on you for a hateful negative post, can't we?
Obama could have "beamed" them down there, and you would have found fault with it.
everyone here bashing the general...would your opinion be differnt if Bush was still Pres?
This is the same guy that told the citizens of Fargo ND that we had to evacuate to avoid another Katrina during our flood. Well we stayed and we saved our city because our leaders knew what we could and couldn't do. If we would have left it would have been a disaster. All he did was insult our intelligence and he had no clue about what we know in terms of taking care of ourselves.
"Barry" now Barack – probably has ALL of the planes booked for his next VACATION!!!!
This man has been watching 24 hour news too much.
I saw the interview with General Honore and I could tell he was sorry he said what he did the minute it came out of his mouth. The US went to work immediately and got there as soon as any country could have.
Frankly, I was hoping CNN would let this one slide. He clearly didn't mean to say we were slow. Of course anyone with compassion would have wanted help to get to the people in Haiti within a couple of hours but make no mistake, the US got there and got there quick.
No one in their right minds in American government now will ever let what happened in New Orleans happen again. Not on their watch. I was in the Atlanta floods in Sept. 09 and VP Joe Biden was here the next day my neighborhood went under... Folks from FEMA too...
This was just an unfortunate comment on the General's part. Nothing even close to what Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh have been saying.
I am proud of what out country is doing for Haiti!
hey General- SIT ON IT- go ask Scandanavian America hating country to respond quicker, you know all the PEACE loving countries.
i understand its a chaotic situation in Haiti, but being critical for not being there 24HRS earlier???????
Last time I checked Haitai wasn't part of the United States, to say we should have learned from Katrina and reacted faster is beyond arrogant.
Of course if we came 30hrs earlier he would probably be saying how imperialistic we are "invading" Haiti without permission.
People are always criticizing Obama/US for what they do and what they didnt do. How are we to do the "right thing" then?
I am horrified by the number of people who don't think the US should help the survivors of this tragedy. There are only two requirements to help ANYONE in this world: 1) They are human beings, and 2) they need help. Those of you who can't get that through your thick skulls should not be commenting here and just stick to the mindless drivel of rash limpballs, glum peckerhead and all of the over so-called "conservative" morons who only think of themselves.
THIS IS HOW LIES ARE SPREAD.
The Coast Guard cutter Forward was there EARLY ON WEDNESDAY MORNING.
And was the ONLY LARGE VESSEL IN PORT-AU-PRINCE HARBOR!!!
"The Forward arrived in Port-au-Prince early Wednesday morning, the first American military ship on the scene and the only large vessel in the harbor, Diane W. Durham, commander of the Forward, said in a telephone interview."
CNN, you really have to CHECK on these statements and make sure they are TRUE. That's called J-O-U-R-N-A-L-I-S-M.
I am sick of the constant comments making fun of our President by using names containing slurs. All this is from those who are supposedly the great lovers of our country. They also wish to use their supposed "Christianity" to belittle Mr. Obama. Perhaps they should go re-read the New Testament. Anyway as to the topic we need to organize aid and get it where it needs to go. We tend to forget the absolute poverty of Haiti and that getting relief supplies into the country and out to the people is not so easy. Sounds like we had things organized when we went in and are actually doing some good.
Shut up with the complaints and donate if you want to help. As to those we said "only give Haiti the same amount of aid they gave us in Katrina". AAAHHHHH! We claim we are the richest and best country in the world. We want to take aid from Haiti where the average person make $20 a month. I assume you have no idea of true poverty.