Friday, January 15, 2010

Stricken Haitians Need Basic Supplies, General Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON - A massive U.S.-international relief effort is under way to help Haitians stricken by a Jan. 12 earthquake that damaged much of the country's capital of Port-Au-Prince.

More than 300 U.S. soldiers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Haiti overnight, and the Navy's aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is now off-shore, dispatching aircraft to aid in relief efforts, Army Lt. Gen. P.K. "Ken" Keen told ABC News reporter Robin Roberts today at Haiti's main airport.

"We've been here doing everything we can. ... Our efforts have been pushed forward as fast as we can get it here," said Keen, deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command based at Miami, who is heading the joint U.S. military task force charged with the Haitian earthquake relief effort.

The top priorities now, Keen said, are providing health care and relief supplies to Haitians in need.

"There's an immense need for medical relief, and we're anticipating, of course, need for basic items such as food," Keen said. "Water, particularly, is in need."

U.S. and international assets, the general said, also are conducting missions to locate and rescue survivors from the rubble.

The Haitians, Keen said, "are in need of everything."

"Much more" U.S. support will be en route to Haiti in coming days, Keen said. The Navy's USNS Comfort hospital ship is being readied to deploy to Haiti to provide medical care. The priority, Keen said, is getting relief aid to Haiti "to mitigate the suffering that the Haitian people are experiencing right now."

Meanwhile, the Haitian government is firmly in control of its affairs as international aid arrives, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten told NBC "Today" show host Meredith Vieira today. The Haitian government "is in charge," Merten emphasized, noting it is holding regular meetings with U.S. and international aid agencies to coordinate relief activities.

Viera asked Merten if Haiti's earthquake-damaged infrastructure, including Port-Au-Prince's airport and seaport, would hinder relief efforts.

There "definitely are" logistical challenges, Merten acknowledged. However, he added, the USS Carl Vinson boasts significant helicopter lift capabilities that can be employed to transport needed supplies to key areas in and around Port-Au-Prince.

Concurrently, search-and-rescue teams "have been out day and night," Merten said, looking to rescue and aid people.