President Obama promised quake battered Haitians today the U.S. will rush to their aid with a "swift, coordinated, and aggressive response."
He dispatched several U.S. ships to the area, including some which will be offshore of Haiti by today. U.S. planes flew over Haiti early today to help assess damage, and the president was briefed about Haiti the first thing this morning. In addition, he named U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah to coordinate American efforts.
"I pledge to the people of Haiti, you have a friend and partner in the United States," Obama said at a White House news conference.
Addressing Americans, he said, "We have to be there for them in their hour of need." He urged Americans, despite their own hard times, to go to www.whitehouse.gov to find out how they can contribute to Haitian relief funds.
Among the first U.S. units to arrive will be the U.S. Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing which will help to provide air traffic control at Port-au-Prince's crippled airport for the relief flights that are expected to rush supplies and personnel to Haiti.
Four U.S. Coast Guard cutters are due offshore today, loaded with food, water, and medical supplies. The Coast Guard also deployed reconnaissance planes early today to survey the damage across the island and locate possible staging areas.
A team of 30 specialists, including U.S. military engineers, operational planners, and communication specialists, will land in Port-au-Prince today aboard two C-130 Hercules aircraft.
In addition, the Navy's aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has been ordered to Haiti. It will pick up helicopters along the way which would facilitate ferrying supplies to Haiti and to areas outside the capital. The Vinson is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti by Thursday afternoon.
Gen. Douglas Fraser said the U.S. was "really looking" at the possibility of sending troops to aid U.N. relief efforts. Fraser said that a brigade and other units were being put on alert. A brigade consists of between 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
He said that the United States was also considering sending a Marine amphibious ship with an expeditionary unit of 2,000 Marines that could land troops in coming days.
Also on the way are three search and rescue teams from Florida, Virginia and California. Virginia's Task Force 1, from Fairfax County, includes 72 personnel, six search and rescue dogs, as well as 48 tons of rescue equipment and supplies.
The Baltimore-based hospital ship the USS Comfort will head to Haiti with crucial medical supplies, but it will not arrive until next week.
In the meantime, communities of Haitian-Americans across the country are trying desperately to reach loved ones, assist with aid efforts, and mourn those that have already been lost.
Shamir Henry of the Bedford Haitian Community Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said no one he knows is able to get through to Haiti by phone. "There is no communication," he said. "I've been trying to contact my mother since last night, and it's been nothing. Right now, we're still in the dark."