A top U.S. military official said Wednesday that American troops might be sent to Haiti to help the United Nations peacekeeping mission there maintain security.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told a State Department briefing, "We're very seriously looking at that. We're looking at the possibility of sending a large-deck amphibious ship that will have a Marine expeditionary unit embarked on that. And so that will be in support of MINUSTAH and the embassy and -- and USAID, as we continue this effort."
MINUSTAH is the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
Fraser said he has been told by his commander on the ground in Haiti that "the situation is calm right now." He said that the airport was believed to be functional "but the tower and the capability to operate there are limited, and so we're pushing capability there now to be able to operate and secure that airport."
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said, "the goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives. That is the president's top priority and is what the president has directed us to do."
Two urban search-and-rescue units, each with 72 people, are en route to Haiti with equipment and technology "to drill through and clear, as much as is possible, rubble, in order to try and identify individuals that can be saved and continue with the mission of saving lives," Shah said.
Fraser said that U.S. Coast Guard and military ships are moving towards Haiti and will be joined by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, carrying a complement of helicopters. The Vinson is due to arrive on Thursday.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Haitian President René Préval said, ``Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.''
The International Red Cross said a third of Haiti's nine million people may need emergency aid and that it would take a day or two for a clear picture of the damage to emerge, the Associated Press reported.
The New York Times described the aftermath of the earthquake this way: "Huge swaths of Port-au-Prince lay in ruins, and thousands of people were feared dead in the rubble of government buildings, foreign aid headquarters and shantytowns that collapsed a day earlier"
In this interview with CNN, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said "well over one hundred thousand people" may have died in the quake. He said "I hope that is not true" but it was difficult to determine because in some places there were "so many people in the streets" without knowing where they came from and in others, there were no people to be seen.
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