WASHINGTON --- President Obama and the U.S. moved to take charge in earthquake-ravaged Haiti on Thursday, dispatching thousands of troops along with tons of aid to try to keep order as well as rescue the suffering in a country dysfunctional in the best of times.
Tested by the first large-scale humanitarian disaster of his presidency, Mr. Obama ordered a relief effort of historic proportions despite the strains it was sure to put on both the U.S. budget and military forces fighting two wars. He pledged $100 million -- with the likelihood of more later.
"The United States is providing a lot of the glue that is keeping people communicating and working together as we try to assert authority, reinstate the government and begin to do what governments have to do to rebuild," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Fox News Channel.
The president announced "the first waves" of the American response were in place, with two search-and-rescue teams on the ground, Coast Guard cutters in port, the U.S. Southern Command in control of the airport and airlifts bringing in urgently needed supplies and ferrying out the injured.
But the chief emphasis out of Washington was the huge amount of U.S. help that was still on the way -- some half-dozen ships and 5,500 troops making their way across the Caribbean.
The role of heading the relief effort and managing the crisis quickly fell to the United States, for lack -- in the short term, at least -- of any other capable entity.
The government of Haitian President Rene Preval was severely disabled, with the president's own residences damaged and the Parliament building collapsed along with other ministries and departments. In one sign of difficult conditions and dearth of official Haitian activity, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to get through to Mr. Preval.
The large United Nations mission in Haiti, about 9,000-strong, was still operating, with about 3,000 peacekeepers patrolling the still-calm streets of Port-au-Prince, the country's capital, population center and heart of earthquake damage. But the U.N.'s abilities to respond aggressively to possible problems were hobbled as well. Its headquarters building was destroyed, and dozens of its personnel dead or missing.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told commanders via video conference during the president's Wednesday night Situation Room meeting that the military has "no higher priority right now" than the relief efforts.
There was sensitivity in Washington to any impression the U.S. was taking over Haiti. So Mr. Gibbs, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley and others emphasized that the U.S. is responding only as requested by the Haitian government, with the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, in regular contact with Mr. Preval.
GEORGIA ON STANDBY
ATLANTA --- Georgia is ready to offer aid to Haiti, including sending people and temporarily housing U.S. citizens fleeing the effects of Tuesday's earthquake, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday.
"Georgia will stand by and do it's share of the American humanitarian efforts in the spirit of whatever it takes, hoping to solve the suffering of people of the nation of Haiti," he said.
The Georgia National Guard and the Emergency Management Agency are standing by awaiting orders from the U.S. State Department, the governor told reporters.
The state resources are also ready to serve U.S. refugees who might be arriving through the state ports or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. A similar effort in 2006 accommodated 12,000 U.S. citizens fleeing violence in Lebanon who were housed temporarily in Georgia and three other states, funded by the federal government.
-- Morris News Service
CDC teams ready to deploy to Haiti from Georgia
ATLANTA - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an Atlanta-based employee who was on detail in Haiti remains missing.
The CDC said in a statement Thursday that the 31-year-old woman was in Haiti at the time of the devastating 7.0 earthquake and is unaccounted for.
There are 35 Haitians employed by the CDC in Port-Au-Prince. The agency said 31 of those employees have been accounted for along with two full-time US citizens permanently assigned to Haiti.
CDC says a number of teams stand ready to deploy as soon as the situation warrants and dozens of specialists will be sent in the coming weeks.
Teams will be conducting public health assessments and addressing issues such as food and potable water, environmental health, setting up and conducting disease surveillance, assessing and developing plans to prevent injuries associated with clean up.
A glance at some of the pledges for victims of the earthquake:
- The U.S. government is making an initial $100 million relief effort and is sending ships, helicopters, transport planes and 2,000 Marines.
- Canada is sending $4.8 million and matching contributions by individual Canadians to eligible charitable organizations up to a total of $47 million. Ottawa also is sending two navy ships, helicopters, transport planes and a disaster response team.
- The World Bank is providing a $100 million grant, and the U.N. is sending $10 million.
- Britain is sending $10 million.
- Australia has pledged $9.3 million; Norway, about $5.3 million; Japan, up to $5 million; Italy, $1.46 million; and the European Commission, $4.37 million.
- Spain has pledged $4.37 million, and sent rescue teams and 100 tons of equipment. Germany gave $2.17 million and sent an immediate response team.
- India and China will each donate $1 million.
- Sweden has offered $850,000, along with tents, water purification equipment and medical aid. It is also sending a team to build a new base to replace the U.N.'s destroyed headquarters.
- Irish telecommunications company Digicel said it would donate $5 million and help repair the phone network.
- Venezuela has sent doctors, firefighters and rescue workers. Mexico will send doctors, search-and-rescue dogs and infrastructure experts.
- French President Nicolas Sarkozy said 400 staff from the public security authority are being sent, as well a ship with two surgical operating units, 50 beds and earth-moving equipment.
- Iceland and Portugal are each sending more than 30 rescue workers. Taiwan has sent 23 rescue workers and two tons of aid.
- Israel plans to open a field hospital and is sending 220 rescue workers.
-- Associated Press