Obama: U.S. Stands Ready to Help Haiti

Edeline B. Clermont weeps in the "Little Haiti" area of Miami on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 as she talks to her sister in Boston after both were unable to contact relatives in Haiti after hearing news about the earth the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the island. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz AP Photo/Al Diaz

Last updated 8:44 p.m. ET

President Barack Obama said his thoughts and prayers were with the people of Haiti, where a strong earthquake hit on Tuesday, and the United States stands ready to help the island nation.

White House officials said Mr. Obama also had asked aides to ensure personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince were safe. There are fewer than 20 U.S. military personnel in Haiti, largely working with the embassy there.

Officials also said Mr. Obama told them to start preparing in case humanitarian assistance was needed.

The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Southern Command have started coordination.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said from Honolulu that the United States was gathering information about the quake and its impact, and the government was offering full civilian and military assistance to Haiti.

Complete Coverage:

Major Quake Hits Haiti; Many Deaths Feared
Quake a "Catastrophe of Major Proportions"
Watch: Haiti Ambassador on Disaster
Haiti Earthquake Victim Describes Scene
USGS: Summary of Haiti Quake's Danger Level
Haitian Earthquake Photos
U.N. Headquarters Damaged in Haiti
Relief Agencies Ready Haiti Preparations

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign
Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said: "This is the worst
possible time for a natural disaster in Haiti, a country which is
still recovering from the devastating storms of just over a year
ago."

Engel urged the administration "to do everything possible to
help" the Haitian people recover.

In Washington, department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince was accounting for staff and trying to activate the U.S. citizen warden network but said land lines and cell phone communication were down in the capital.

"Our embassy is also trying to make contact with the Haitian government. There are emergency meetings going on right now in Washington to identify assets that can be moved quickly into the area. U.S. search and rescue teams have been put on alert, and we are trying to assess the status of the airport. As President Obama has said, we will assist in any way we can."

"There are emergency meetings going on right now," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. "We need to gather what information we can quickly. We will of course assist in any way we can."

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said, "This is the worst possible time for a natural disaster in Haiti, a country which is still recovering from the devastating storms of just over a year ago."

Engel urged the administration "to do everything possible to help" the Haitian people recover.

Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said his office and the rest of the United Nations system were monitoring the situation. He pledged relief, rebuilding and recovery assistance to Haiti.

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