Obama: America Must be There for Haitians

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Updated 10:58 a.m. Eastern Time

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.

Mr. Obama said the United States is now working to deliver food, water and medicine to the island nation, and that search and rescue teams from three states are now headed there. More rescue and medical equipment are also being prepared, he said. He vowed that Haiti would have the full support of the United States in rescue and humanitarian efforts.

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.

The president, who was joined by Vice President Biden, spoke from the diplomatic room of the White House. He said the tragedy "is a time when we are reminded of the common humanity that we all share," and noted that there were just a few hundred miles of ocean between Haiti and the United States.

"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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Complete Coverage:

Massive Quake Devastates Haiti's Capital
Red Cross: 3M Haitians Affected by Quake
Nations, Aid Groups Ramp Up to Help Haiti
U.S. Haitians Desperate to Contact Kin
Haiti Quake: An Eyewitness Account
Quake a "Catastrophe of Major Proportions"
Watch: Haiti Ambassador on Disaster
Watch: Haiti Earthquake Victim Describes Scene
Obama: U.S. Stands Ready to Help Haiti
USGS: Summary of Haiti Quake's Danger Level
Haitian Earthquake Photos
U.N. Headquarters Destroyed in Haiti