President Obama said Wednesday morning that the United States is engaging in a "swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives" in the wake of an earthquake in Haiti that caused massive devastation and may have taken thousands of lives.
The president offered "deep condolences and unwavering support of the American people" to the Haitian people, saying that the tragedy is "especially cruel and incomprehensible" in light of the hardship and suffering the country has endured in the past.
He called reports and images of "collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes, and men and women carrying their injured neighbors" in the streets "truly heart wrenching." The president said the world is just beginning to learn the extent of the damage, and that rescue and recovery efforts "will be complex and challenging."
"Our thoughts and prayers are also with the many Haitian Americans around our country who do not yet know the fate of their families and loved ones back home," he said.
According to an American official, the U.S. response is currently in a reconnaissance phase, with damage being assessed in large part through military flyovers.
The president said the United States is now working to account for U.S. embassy personnel and their families in Port-au-Prince, as well as other Americans in Haiti. He encouraged those seeking to find Americans in Haiti to contact the State Department at 888-407-4747.
Mr. Obama said that because the immediate aftermath is extremely important, he is instructing his teams to be "as forward-leaning as possible in getting the help on the ground" and coordinating with international partners.
He also said he is "taking steps to ensure that our government acts in a unified way," and that USAID administrator Rajiv Shah would coordinate the effort. The president spoke to Shah Wednesday morning.
"Haitians are neighbors of the Americas and here at home," he said. "So we have to be there for them in their hour of need."
"Despite the fact that we are experiencing tough times here at home, I would encourage those Americans who want to support the urgent humanitarian efforts to go to whitehouse.gov where you can learn how to contribute," said the president. "We must be prepared for difficult hours and days ahead as we learn about the scope of the tragedy. We will keep the victims and their families in our prayers. We will be resolute in our response, and I pledge to the people of Haiti that you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America today and going forward."
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