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VOL. 125 | NO. 10 | Friday, January 15, 2010

US Ups Ante On Haitian Assistance; Memphians Chip In

PAULINE JELINEK | Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama said Thursday that “one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history” is moving toward Haiti as he continued to mobilize the U.S. response to the island’s devastating earthquake.

As many as 5,500 U.S. infantry soldiers and Marines will be on the ground or on ships offshore by Monday, a U.S. Defense Department official said. More than a half dozen ships, including a hospital ship with 12 operating rooms, also were heading there Thursday or preparing to get under way, said spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Obama said the U.S. government is initially directing $100 million toward the relief effort, a figure he said would certainly grow over the year. “This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership,” he said.

Locally, organizations and businesses are participating in big and small ways.

Tennessee Task Force One as of press time Thursday had not been deployed to Haiti. But Dr. Joe Holley, medical director for TNTF1, told The Daily News in an e-mail that deployment could be coming.

“It looks likely that I’ll deploy with task force in the next few days,” he said. “Several task forces are mobilized and en route. As a clearer picture emerges, I expect our group to be requested.”

The Memphis Medical Society has requested donations of medical supplies from area physicians to be sent to Haiti. (For more information about donating, e-mail Dr. Gordon Kraus at docgjk@aol.com or call Mike Cates or Janice Cooper at 761-0200.)

Other businesses are also playing a part. Bari Ristorante, for example, on Thursday accepted money, food and clothing items from patrons to be donated to relief efforts in Haiti. In exchange, the restaurant took 10 percent off the final bills of those customers.

WMC-TV, the Mid-South chapter of the American Red Cross and the Citadel Radio Group will jointly raise money today at WMC’s studios at 1960 Union Ave. Volunteers will be available in the station’s parking lot from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. accepting donations.

The Children’s Museum of Memphis is dedicating the weekend to “Helping Hands for Haiti: Children Helping Children.” A portion of every admission sold will go to the relief effort. There also will be special jars at the admissions desk where children can learn the virtues of helping others by donating coins from home.

In addition, the museum will have a special card-making session Saturday.

A number of faith-based organizations will be pitching in with collections during weekend services. The Rev. Terry Steib, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, is urging area parishes to take up special collections this weekend. Money raised will be sent to Catholic Relief Services, which is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.

“When I was a board member for Catholic Relief Services I visited Haiti twice, so I know firsthand how devastating an earthquake could be in a country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere,” Steib said. “I know that my heart and the hearts of all our people will be touched by the enormous need of the people in Haiti and they will respond generously to that need.”

Meanwhile, an Obama administration official said the president is reaching out to former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton for their assistance in the relief effort. It was Bush who tapped his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Clinton, to assist with the tsunami response.

Their roles will be defined in the coming days, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement had not been made.

An official close to George W. Bush confirmed that he was joining Clinton in the relief efforts.

At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed the death of one American citizen, with three others known to be missing after Tuesday’s 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The agency did not immediately release the name of the victim. Crowley said the U.S. embassy has made contact with nearly 1,000 American citizens in Haiti, just a fraction of the estimated 45,000 Americans there.

Amid continuing efforts to assess the disaster’s cost in lives and lost property, the first U.S. Army infantry troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina prepared to leave for Haiti with arrival expected later Thursday. That’s a little more than 100 troops that will find locations to set up tents and other essentials in preparation for the arrival of another roughly 800 personnel from the division today and the full brigade of some 3,500 by the end of the weekend, Whitman said.

They come on top of some 2,200 Marines, also to arrive by Sunday or Monday, as the military ramped up what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called “a full-court press” to provide security, search and rescue and delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Obama said more than a half dozen U.S. military ships were also expected to help, with the largest, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, arriving today, and the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort expected to arrive by Jan. 22.

Obama, evidently remembering the political cost to Bush of a slow government response to Hurricane Katrina, warned pre-emptively that it would take hours “and in many cases days” to get the full U.S. relief contingent on the ground, because of the badly damaged roads, airport, port and communications.

“None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who’s trapped, if you’re sleeping on the streets, if you can’t feed your children,” Obama said. “So today, you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way.”

As a start, the president said the U.S. military has secured the severely damaged airport in Port-au-Prince, preparing it to receive round-the-clock deliveries of heavy equipment and emergency supplies being flown in from the United States and countries around the world.

For Washington, managing its role in the crisis required a rush mentality coupled with consideration of the implications of its role.

“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 and reconstruct this damaged country,” Clinton said in an interview on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”

Sensitive to questions about whether the U.S. would need – or choose – to essentially take over Haiti’s now almost-nonexistent civil and governmental structure, Crowley, her spokesman, stressed that U.S. troops sent to Haiti will be under U.S. command but there to augment and support the United Nations mission.

“We’re not taking over Haiti,” he said. “We are helping to stabilize Haiti, we’re helping to provide them lifesaving support and materiel and we’re going to be there over the long term to help Haiti rebuild. But, the key is: We are maintaining constant contact with the Haitian government even given the difficult situation. What we’re doing is following the priorities that the Haitian government has outlined for us.”

Obama said Americans are being evacuated as quickly as possible. Crowley said 164 Americans have been airlifted out, including 42 non-essential officials and employee family members and 72 private citizens who were taken out on Coast Guard C-130s. Another 50 private citizens left on an Iceland Air flight. There were 360 Americans registered to leave on evacuation flights that were set to continue Thursday.

“We will not rest until we account for our fellow Americans in harm’s way,” Obama said.

The president also said he has directed Vice President Joe Biden to travel to South Florida this weekend to meet with members of the Haitian-American community and responders.

The Daily News Senior Editor Lance Allan Wiedower and Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty, Matthew Lee and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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