Clinton heads to Haiti as rescue effort steps up

Clinton heads to Haiti as rescue effort steps up

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Haiti on Saturday to consult with government officials as a major international rescue effort intensifies after this week's devastating earthquake, dpa reported.

Clinton said she would meet with Haitian President Rene Preval and other US, Haitian and United Nations officials on the ground in the capital, as well as some civilian aid organizations.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier arrived off Haiti's coast Friday to begin humanitarian assistance, part of a larger military mobilization to rush supplies into Haiti.

The Nimitz-class nuclear-powered ship carried 19 helicopters that had begun ferrying food, water and other supplies into and around the capital Port-au-Prince, where the vast majority of destruction took place.

There is an urgent need to get supplies into the country following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation on Tuesday, killing an estimated tens of thousands of people.

The US has pledged an initial 100 million dollars in aid and is sending thousands of emergency rescue and military personnel. A Marine unit of 2,200 soldiers is sailing toward the country, and US army units have already arrived with more on the way.

Clinton said she would be "conveying very directly and personally to the Haitian people our long term, unwavering support, solidarity and sympathies to reinforce President (Barack) Obama's message that they are not facing this crisis alone."

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Friday there were reports of minor looting in Port-au-Prince but that overall the security situation remains calm.

"The key is to get the food and the water in there as quickly as possible so that people don't, in their desperation, turn to violence or lead to the security situation deteriorating," he said.

Military cargo planes have also been flying aid into the airport, which has a limited capacity to host aircraft. The United States also has multiple search and rescue teams on the ground.

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the single-strip airport is capable of handling a maximum of 90 flights daily. The US had reached an agreement with the Haitian government to take control of the airport "indefinitely" to help funnel supplies.

Port-au-Prince's port, which was damaged during the earthquake, is unusable at the moment, Crowley said.

"It's a severe handicap, because obviously, at some point, in order to bring in significant quantities of goods, you'd like to be able to have access to the port," he said.

Crowley confirmed that six American citizens were killed, one of them a State Department employee who worked at the embassy.

"That number is going to go up," he said. "There's a larger number of those who are presumed to have perished."

At least 846 Americans have been evacuated, most of them to a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There are an estimated 45,000 US citizens in Haiti.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Haitian President Rene Preval Friday morning, pledging the full support of the United States in the ongoing earthquake relief effort.

Obama and Preval spoke for about 30 minutes, stressing the importance of coordination as aid pours into Haiti from countries, aid organizations and the United Nations.

The two leaders had not been able to speak since Tuesday afternoon's massive earthquake because of poor communication lines. Crowley said the United States has assigned a team to Preval with communications gear so the president can remain in contact.

Obama told Preval "the world has been devastated by the loss and suffering in Haiti," according to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. He promised support for both the immediate and long-term recovery.

Preval told Obama he was "touched by the friendship of the American people" and appreciated the support from the US and other countries around the world.

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