January 14th, 2010
04:36 PM ET
13 years ago

Honore: U.S. military should have reached Haiti sooner

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.

Filed under: Haiti
soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. They call me "tater salad"

    Don't tell me..........Let me guess...............This guy is a Republican,right?...............NEXT!!!!

    January 14, 2010 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  2. m smith

    i see that this site is full of looney repos too. Every chance for a slam against the white house and this president. Shut up and help these people and stuff your politics the same place your heads are. Rush and pat must be so proud.

    January 14, 2010 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  3. According to . . .

    El Rushbo, you don't need to give money to Haiti because you already
    pay income taxes.

    And anyway, Obama is simply trying to get street cred with light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks.

    When are the members of his party going to stand up to this sack of garbage? (sounds of crickets)

    January 14, 2010 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  4. Joan

    What is wrong with the Republican party ? For a LOT of years they drove the country into one of the largest economic disasters.

    They have done absolutely NOTHING for the past year to help the people of their country but they still continue to talk "out of both sides of their mouths" and use coniving tactics to interfere with the Governing party.

    How could anyone have moved any faster to help the people of Haiti? Unless, of course, the Republican Party has a direct line with someone way, way up above !!!!!

    Anyone, and I mean anyone, who votes for the Republican party on any issue should make an appointment as soon as possible to have their heads examined for a total lack of brain power !!!!!

    January 14, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  5. D.D.

    Send General Honore. He was good but it took a moment for he and his team arrived also. Remember?

    January 14, 2010 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  6. Ms S Callahan

    No one can really knkow how to handle this Bibical crisis...it's beyond human comprehension....but .....the former General is correct.....coordination much be swifter....many ships that are fully loaded with critical supplies are being turned away....the airport is at a standstill...and there is no refueling as the fuel is gone....at this point...the focus has to be effenciency...put a woman in charge..it'll get done without all the red tape.....she'll just bring her scissors and cut through it..........this can not be a dilly dally process for political points...this journey is giving you spiritual ups....so get a move on it..stop blaming and just do!!!!!

    January 14, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  7. normajean

    Why is there always someone who finds immediate fault with what some one else does?The news that FIRST came out regarding the Haiti quake was that there would be problems getting help into the airport because the tower had been damaged and there was limited help available for planes to come in. even military. I'm sure that whatever help could be had got there as fast as they could.WHY DO THESE COMPLAINTS ALL SOUND LIKE THE REPUBLICANS? THEY ARE SO PREDICTABLE.ANY THING TO TAKE ANOTHER CHOP AT THE PRESIDENT. WHICH WON'T BE FORGOTTEN WHEN VOTING THIS YEAR.

    January 14, 2010 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  8. Sue

    And Whee is HE??? Hiding under a comfortable blanket I suppose!!!!
    Such a ??leader? making fun of Georgie – but now HE IS ORSE!!! This is the most devastating debacle I have ever seen in all of my years.
    Maybe Michelle could send foods from her GARDEN???

    January 14, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  9. ThinkAgain

    If the earthquake in Haiti could have been predicted, then the ships and planes would have been preloaded with supplies, ready to take off the moment disaster struck.

    Haiti's infrastructure was devastated by this earthquake – including the airport – which is making assistance very difficult.

    Gen. Honore needs to put a sock in it!

    January 14, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  10. ThinkAgain

    Republicans will try to spin this in a way to slam President Obama – not that they gave a rip about Haiti before this ...

    GOP = Downright Shameless!

    January 14, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  11. Gerry NH

    Let me go give a speach about Haiti second then I can go back to congress and tell them how to vote for my healt care bill.

    January 14, 2010 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  12. sara

    I totally disagreed while watching this interview. I still can't figure out what he's talking about.....CNN stop giving these "nobodies" air time calling them Experts. Honore, I liked before, but he has an agenda clearly, as this assessment is Totally off base.

    January 14, 2010 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  13. sara

    The President has done a Superb Job so far. It was 5:00pm when the Quake hit. The Presidnet used the night hours to get his plan together, without running around like Honore without a plan, prepertrating a "fraud" like he had it under controll AFTER an entire AMERICAN city drowned.
    The next day, the U.S. was enroute to Haiti...........Oh, I get it.....he wanted us to be on the way BEFORE the Quake hit.

    January 14, 2010 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  14. Jordan H from Pa

    i think that US should have acted sooner, but what can we really expect from them? we have been at war on "terrorrism", really still dont kno what a solid definition of htat is today, but we have been at war against it since '01 and now this happens.. out of nowhere. we cant expect us to react within hours. however, i do think we as a nation need to help this country for the tradegy they have suffered.

    January 14, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  15. Peggy Fultz

    cant they land heilcopters in the football field and put the aid there for the Haiti servivors with military gards

    January 14, 2010 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  16. Brandon V in DFW

    General Honore, you really need to get off of it. I think the rescue and recovery effort has been moving at a phenomenal rate.

    The earthquake was at 4:53 pm local time Tuesday evening, and the US Coast Guard Cutter Forward was there by 8:00 am the next morning.

    Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk was there later the same day. Haiti is not a forward supply station. We have to move supplies and people as quickly as we can. Its 48 hours later and you have nations from all over sending people. What more could you ask for.

    As someone born an raised in New Orleans I am slightly offended at his implication that we could have been there sooner.

    January 14, 2010 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  17. jayzee

    well Colin Powell says he is "very impressed" by how quickly president Obama deployed personnel to the area... this guy Honore thinks he can do better? i doubt it!

    now remember Colin Powell is a republican... tells me this should not be considered a polital thing, its a humanitarian effort.

    January 14, 2010 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  18. Moonbeam

    WE ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO send our military or anyone at all in any country!
    It is called HUMANITARIAN HELP and if anyone was doing it to me and my country , I would be grateful for everything!

    January 14, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  19. Susan

    How dare he criticize! Though I respected his efforts after Katrina (clearly "a day late and a dollar short", thanks to W), I do longer have an ounce of respect for Honore - what a jerk! It sounds to me as if the Obama Administration has done a remarkable job of responding as quickly as possible. And, if we can't care for the rest of humanity, we as a country are worthless!

    January 14, 2010 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  20. LINDA

    Excuse me? Didn't this happen yesterday. The president is not a magician.

    January 14, 2010 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  21. JOE M

    Quetion????? How did this KNUCKLE HEAD ever get 3 stars???

    January 14, 2010 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  22. Larry

    Honore is another moron from the Bush administration. It looks to be like aid got there as soon as it could.

    Honore botched Katrina aid, now he's an expert on disaster relief?

    January 14, 2010 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  23. unemployed by Obama

    oh give me a break, all the democrates want to do is spend our tax dollars in foreign countries as America is dying.

    Thank Obama for the death of America

    January 14, 2010 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  24. Ashley Q

    Something tells me the US military (or any help) could have arrived within 5 minutes of the quake and people like this would still find something to criticize (no doubt something like – well, if they could get there that quickly why aren't they doing more here). At least I am slowly getting renewed hope in the average person given that it wasn't the politicians or media who organized efforts right away, no, it was those on facebook and twitter. Sad but true.

    January 14, 2010 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
1 2 3