Reporting from Washington — President Obama, signaling "one of the largest relief efforts in history" for victims of the earthquake in Haiti, said today that he has ordered an immediate investment of $100 million in U.S. aid.
"This investment will grow over the coming year," said the president, standing with several Cabinet members and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom Obama said he has ordered to make the disaster in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince the No. 1 priority of all their agencies.
U.S. armed forces are on the way to Haiti, the president said, citing several Coast Guard cutters already deployed, elements of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and a Marine Expeditionary Force en route.
Obama made his second public statement on the Haiti crisis in two days from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, where he was joined today by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
"The losses that have been suffered in Haiti are nothing less than devastating," Obama said, promising not only the "power" of the U.S. military for a massive relief effort, but also "the compassion" of the American people.
"Yet, even as we bring our resources to bear . . . we need to summon the tremendous generosity and compassion of the American people," said Obama, calling on Americans to contribute money for the relief effort. The State Department said today that people already have contributed more than $3 million in $10 donations with text messages.
"I've made it clear to each of these leaders that Haiti must be a priority for each of their departments right now," Obama said of the Cabinet, military and diplomatic leaders standing alongside him. "This is a situation that calls out for American leadership.
"The first wave of relief workers are on the ground and at work," Obama said, and an airlift has been set up for water and medicine.
"We have no higher priority than the safety of American citizens, and we are airlifting Americans out of Haiti," he said.
"Even as we move as quickly as possible, it will take hours and in many cases days, to get all of our people and resources on the ground," he said, noting that for those trapped under rubble or living without food for their children "none of this will seem quick enough."
As the State Department attempts to help people in the U.S. learn of the status of relatives in Haiti, Biden plans to meet with members of the Haitian American community in South Florida this weekend.
"Finally, I want to speak directly to the people of Haiti," Obama said. "Few in the world have endured the hardships that you have known . . . After suffering for so long, to face this new horror, must cause some to look up and say, 'Have we been forsaken?'
"You have not been forsaken. You will not be forgotten," Obama said, promising that Americans will stand by Haitians. "Today, you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way."