haiti earthquake aid
Members of a rescue and protection team clean debris from a house Aug. 15 in Les Cayes, Haiti, following a magnitude 7.2 earthquake the previous day. (CNS/Reuters/Ralph Tedy Erol)

The United States Ambassador to Haiti and Haiti’s Prime Minister are in touch several times per day as the U.S. mobilizes earthquake relief aid and continues to assist in the murder investigation of Jovenel Moïse, officials from USAID and the U.S. State Department said. 

On the Aug. 17 conference call with reporters, the officials also provided more details about the level of support the U.S. is marshaling following the deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

“Our ambassador [to Haiti] is speaking with the prime minister several times per day,” said Laura Lochman, a State Department Western Hemisphere Affairs secretary. “In the wake of the tragic assassination of President Moise we continue to work closely with Haiti’s interim government to assist in the investigation.”

While the assassination investigation continues, all parties have said the immediate priority is providing rescue and relief support to the 1.2 million Haitians in the southwestern region impacted by the earthquake. The officials did not say the amount of U.S. government funds allocated to the relief effort, but they shared details of the personnel and equipment in transit to Haiti.

Resources deployed to southwestern Haiti as part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) include 38 USAID disaster experts and a 65-person urban search and rescue team from the Fairfax County Fire Department. The Coast Guard has airlifted 1,000 pounds of medical supplies, along with personnel including local Haitian medical staff and structural engineers to affected areas, said Sarah Charles, a USAID humanitarian affairs administrator. 

The urban search and rescue team, deployed with 52,000 pounds of specialized tools and equipment, began work on Aug. 16, two days after the earthquake hit. 

Personnel traveled by helicopter to the towns of Dessaline, Maniche, Camp-Perrin, La Borde and Les Cayes, said Fairfax County Fire Department spokesperson John Morrison. Staff provided medical attention to the injured and conducted damage assessments of buildings, he said. 

“The team reports that food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, and shelter, are all priority needs,” Morrison said. 

Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency announced on Aug. 17 that 16 people were pulled out of the rubble alive near Les Cayes, three days after the earthquake. But Morrison said on the call that the U.S. team had not made any rescues. 

U.S. officials said they are also working with officials from the United Kingdom and European Union to coordinate disaster response. The Dominican Republic, Colombia, Jamaica and Cuba are among the regional partners assisting in the rescue effort. The UN has allocated $8 million to provide health care, water and shelter. 

The death toll from the Aug. 14 Haiti earthquake has surpassed 1,900, with international support pledged by several countries

“We believe every one of those deaths is a tragedy, and we can anticipate that the number will climb in the coming days,” Charles said. “But we do not anticipate that the scale of this disaster is comparable to the 2010 earthquake, that’s not what we’re seeing on the ground.”

Surveys in the months following the 2010 earthquake estimated a maximum death toll of nearly 90,000 people, but international governments, NGOs and media largely reported the Haitian government’s initial estimate of more than 230,000 deaths.

Here is an overview of assistance pledged by the U.S. government:

  • The National Security Council organized several interagency calls on Saturday to share updates on the ground and to coordinate response efforts – and the NSC has held daily interagency calls since to ensure close coordination between agencies across government as well as between staff on the ground and back in the United States.
  • President Biden released a statement sending his condolences on Saturday and naming USAID Administrator Samantha Power as the senior US official to coordinate this effort immediately following the earthquake.
  • The administration ordered the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Haiti, including urban search-and-rescue experts. The DART is coordinating with local authorities, humanitarian organizations, and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to assess damages, identify priority needs, and provide life-saving aid to people affected by the earthquake.
  • USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) established a Washington, D.C.-based Response Management Team (RMT) to coordinate U.S. Government efforts in response to the earthquake. USAID/BHA staff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Washington, D.C. continue to assess conditions in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, the GoH, and humanitarian partners.
  • USAID/BHA provided an initial $100,000 to the American Red Cross to support emergency logistics and shelter assistance, as well as the provision of relief commodities to affected populations. 
  • USAID staff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; San Jose, Costa Rica; and Washington, D.C. continue to assess conditions in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, the GoH, and humanitarian partners, including updates on Tropical Storm Grace. 
  • USAID/BHA has also established a Washington, D.C.-based Response Management Team (RMT) to coordinate efforts across the U.S. Government in response to the earthquake. 
  • U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) has established Joint Task Force-Haiti in support of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).  SOUTHCOM deployed a Situational Awareness Team on August 15 to assess the impact of the earthquake and determine U.S. response. 
  • The Department of Defense and USCG are providing transportation support for U.S. government response personnel in Haiti, including with 8 helicopters, consisting of 3 UH-60 Black Hawks, 3 CH-47 Chinooks, and 2 HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from Joint Task Force-Bravo. The US Navy is providing assistance with aerial images of areas impacted by the earthquake. 
  • Three USCG helicopters are assisting with moving individuals injured in the earthquake to Port au Prince for medical care and multiple fixed wing aircraft are transporting additional medical supplies.
  • The State Department announced the appointment of Special Envoy for Haiti Dan Foote on July 22 and he and U.S. Ambassador Sison are encouraging our Haitian partners to negotiate with a broad array of stakeholders for a political accord that can lead to free and fair elections when conditions permit. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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