Washington: Rescuers, sniffer dogs, equipment and supplies headed to Haiti by air and sea Thursday in a global response to a horror earthquake feared to have killed more than 100,000 people.
US President Barack Obama, spearheading international efforts, ordered a sweeping military and civilian operation, as governments and aid groups unlocked funds and appeals were launched on an array of Internet sites.
Much of the capital of the destitute Caribbean nation was reduced to rubble by Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake but the airport was operational, allowing international relief by air as well as sea.
“I have directed my administration to respond with a swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives,” Obama said as US civilian and military experts began landing in Haiti and US aircraft searched for survivors.
“The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief, food, water and medicine that Haitians will need.”
After Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said the death toll could reach “well over 100,000”, the initial effort was focused on saving as many lives as possible.
“The priority is to find survivors,” Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said as the UN mobilised search and rescue teams.
“We are working against the clock,” she said.
General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, told reporters that an initial survey of the earthquake’s aftermath from the air indicated the damage was mainly concentrated around the capital but the number of casualties and the scale of the disaster was still unknown.
“We don’t have a clear assessment right now of what the situation on the ground is,” he said.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was en route and set to arrive Thursday, while destroyers and more Coast Guard ships were on the way,
Former US president Bill Clinton, now the UN special envoy in Haiti, launched a quake fund saying even a dollar or two would help, while Pope Benedict XVI urged a generous response to the “tragic situation”.
The World Bank said it would provide an extra $100 million in aid to Haiti, which has long suffered unrest, crime, political tumult and natural disasters.
“This is a shocking event and it is crucial that the international community supports the Haitian people at this critical time,” said Robert Zoellick, president of the 186-nation development lender.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was gearing up to help a “maximum of three million people”, based on numbers on the ground, and was drawing on emergency stocks in Haiti.
The Red Cross launched a 10-million-dollar appeal for donations and the World Food Programme said it could quickly provide 15,000 tonnes of food.
The World Health Organization deployed specialists to help handle mass casualties and corpses, warning of the danger of communicable diseases such as diarrhea.
Latin American nations, many with experience of earthquakes and with UN peacekeepers in Haiti, scrambled to help.
Cuba, which felt the quake, sent 30 doctors to add to its medical staff already in Haiti. Brazil said it was sending 10 million dollars in immediate aid, while Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Guatamala and Chile also promised help.
Canada readied two warships, helicopters and planes with supplies, as well as a large relief and rescue force.
From the Asia-Pacific, Australia pledged nine million dollars. Taiwan, whose ambassador to Haiti was hurt in the quake, South Korea and New Zealand also offered aid.
In Europe, the European Commission released three million euros in emergency assistance, while Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain all volunteered help. A plane carrying search and rescue teams left from Moscow and Russia pledged to send a field hospital.
Aid organizations, impromptu groups and individuals used the Internet and Twitter to make rally donations, bolstering their messages with harrowing footage from Haiti’s ruins.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, whose country was at the center of the 2004 Asian tsunami which killed more than 220,000 people, appealed for the world to help Haiti at a meeting of Asian ministers.
“As a country that has been itself devastated by similar situations we are absolutely saddened... We call on the international community, including ourself, to do what it can to assist them,” he said.
Japan pledged to help Haiti but said it was still studying how much financial and technical assistance to give, a government spokesman said.