WASHINGTON – Governments and aid groups from around the world rushed to dispatch relief workers and supplies to Haiti on Wednesday, where a devastating earthquake left thousands in need.
U.S. President Barack Obama sent military troops and an air and sea flotilla to speed earthquake relief, and governments from China to Venezuela promised help.
The massive effort to alleviate the spiraling toll of death and destruction kicked in as the devastation from Tuesday’s magnitude-7.0 quake revealed itself.
Haitian officials predicted a death total exceeding 100,000.
The United Nations has released $10 million from its emergency funds, even as U.N. workers and peacekeeping troops on the island nation at the time of the quake struggled with their own losses. The U.N. headquarters building collapsed, and the reported death toll there was mounting.
“We’ll be using whatever roads are passable to get aid to Port-au-Prince, and if possible we’ll bring helicopters in,” said Emilia Casella, a spokeswoman for the U.N. food agency in Geneva.
Its 200 staff in Haiti were trying to deliver high-energy biscuits and other supplies, despite looting and the threat of violence in a nation long plagued by lawlessness.
The Red Cross estimated that 3 million people will require aid, ranging from shelter to food and clean water, and said many Haitians could need relief for a full year.
“There are many, many people trapped in the rubble,” said Paul Conneally, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. “We’re not optimistic at the moment.”
The American Red Cross ran out of medical supplies on the ground in Haiti, a spokesman said Wednesday. The small amount of medical equipment and supplies that were available to Haiti had been distributed, spokesman Eric Porterfield said. More was being sent, but he said he did not know when they would be arriving.
Across the globe, governments and aid groups were sending sniffer dogs to search for victims. They also were sending food and tons of emergency medical aid.
The sheer number of dead bodies was expected to pose a problem.
The World Health Organization said it had sent specialists to help clear the city of corpses, and the International Red Cross was sending a plane Thursday loaded mainly with body bags.
Sixty-five rubble-clearing specialists and six sniffer dogs left France on Wednesday, while Spain dispatched three planeloads of rescuers and 100 tons of tents, blankets and cooking kits. Israel was sending in an elite Army rescue unit of engineers and doctors.
A military reconnaissance team from Canada was arriving aboard a C-130 transport plane to assess the need for mosquito nets, basic household goods, tents and sanitation packages.
One of the first teams expected to arrive in Haiti was a 37-member search-and-rescue unit from Iceland, along with 10 tons of rescue equipment.
Cuba already had field hospitals on the ground when the quake struck.
The Irish telecommunications company Digicel said it would donate $5 million to aid agencies and help repair Haiti’s damaged phone network.
Islamic Relief USA, America’s largest Muslim relief organization, said it would fly a $1 million shipment of aid, to be co-ordinated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The United States set in motion a sweeping military response that included ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said one of the Navy’s large amphibious ships probably would head to Haiti with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard. An Army brigade, which would include several thousand soldiers, from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was standing by for possible deployment, he said.
Fraser said it was possible that some military personnel would aid in security, bolstering Haiti’s beleaguered police, but final decisions on their use had not yet been made. A Southern Command assessment team was flying to Haiti.
The initial contingent of 2,000 Marines could pitch in with both emergency aid distribution and law enforcement in support of a small U.N. peacekeeping force already there, Fraser said.
The Navy announced late Wednesday the amphibious assault ship USS Batann had been ordered to get underway as soon as possible carrying the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. The ship is one of more than a half dozen, including frigates, a destroyer and a guided missile cruiser, headed to the Caribbean nation.
Obama put newly appointed USAID administrator Rajiv Shah in overall charge of the American effort. He said the initial response would concentrate on search and rescue operations but would also look at longer-term humanitarian needs. Two 72-member American urban search and rescue teams were on their way, transported by military and civilian airlift.
“The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives,” Shah told reporters.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cut short an extended trip to the Asia-Pacific to deal with the crisis in Haiti.
In Haiti, Doctors Without Borders said it had treated hundreds in tents near where its Martissant health centre was damaged.
The injuries included broken bones and some severe burns from domestic gas containers that exploded in collapsed buildings. It said hundreds more Haitians were being treated in tents elsewhere.
Canada planned an initial donation of $4.8 million, with more aid to flow after reports to Ottawa by military reconnaissance team.
China pitched in with a pledge of $1 million, while the European Commission has approved $4.37 million. European Union member states Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, and Germany promised millions more.
Even as donations began piling up, the FBI warned Internet users to be wary of email messages seeking donations in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to known organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited emails, officials said.
Associated Press writers Anne Flaherty, Pauline Jelinek, Matthew Lee and Julie Pace contributed to this story.