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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to the Press on the Earthquake in Haiti


Special Briefing
Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
January 13, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: We plan to do this several times during the course of the day. We had a conference call this morning with our ambassador, Kenneth Merten, who is our ambassador there, and supported by the DCM.

QUESTION: M-e-r-t-o-n?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. M-e-r-t-e-n.

QUESTION: T-e-n.

MR. CROWLEY: And David Lindwall, the DCM, as well as officials from the White House, Coast Guard, DOD, SOUTHCOM, USAID, and so forth, just to kind of get an update. And as the President has said, we want an aggressive and coordinated approach, and we’re going to do everything possible to not only help the people of Haiti but look after our American citizens as well.

What – our sense of where we are in Haiti this morning, there have been some reconnaissance flights launched by the Coast Guard. I think it will be very important through the morning just to kind of get that initial assessment, now that we have daylight, of exactly what we’re dealing with.

Ambassador Merten reported that he was able to talk twice with President Preval during the evening and overnight, as well as contact with other ministers of the Haitian Government. I think a couple of the priorities from the Haitian Government: number one, which is everybody’s priority, is search and rescue; and also to make sure that the air traffic control so that we can begin to use the airport and flow badly needed assistance to Port-au-Prince.

In that regard, we should have a disaster response team. A DART team from San Jose will be leaving there later this morning and will arrive in Port-au-Prince at the airport early this afternoon, roughly at 1:30. The Fairfax search-and-rescue team will depart Dulles airport later this morning and should arrive by mid-afternoon at the latest, on a charter aircraft, in Port-au-Prince.

QUESTION: Arrive what time?

MR. CROWLEY: Around 3 o’clock. But if we can get them there earlier – I mean, everyone has just kind of been poised to go, but the critical aspect is what’s the condition of the airport, and I’ll get into that in a second. And we have a Los Angeles search-and-rescue team standing by and thy will be coming into Haiti sometime probably during the night tonight, tomorrow.

QUESTION: A DLA team?

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. On DOD airlift.

QUESTION: You said coming in tonight?

MR. CROWLEY: They’ll be arriving – right now, the schedule would be they’d arrive early tomorrow morning in Haiti. But again, our – if we can – now that we know our current – now that we know the airport appears to be relatively undamaged, open, and functional, if we can move assets in earlier, obviously, that is our preference.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. You said the airport’s relatively undamaged?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, our DCM, David Lindwall, at first light was able to move over to the airport, consult with some folks there. The tarmac appears to be in good shape. The tower is still standing. It’s unclear what specific – what is functioning. There were some reports overnight the tower had collapsed; that’s not true. Personnel at the airport report that lights are working. So it looks like the airport is available, and he reported that while he was there at the airport, actually one airplane landed. So that’s all good news, which means that we can flow assets in there during the course of the morning.

What else can I tell you?

QUESTION: What about U.S. citizens, U.S. officials –

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah. David Lindwall reported that there were some American citizens that have gathered at the airport. We’re going to dispatch a team out there to kind of work that aspect so that they – we can begin a flow of non-essential – of private citizens and non-essential personnel out of Port-au-Prince as soon as possible. You obviously relieve the burden on Haiti.

QUESTION: You mean, are you talking about –

MR. CROWLEY: Let me – on the matter of American citizens, obviously, overnight we were working our Warden system to account for our citizens and our Embassy employees. On the Embassy employee side, we have accounted for all of our American employees but one. We’re still working on that one case. And we remain greatly concerned about our Haitian colleagues who work at the Embassy. Clearly, they have lost family members. We know that. And in terms of a combination of Embassy employees and American citizens, we’ve been in touch with roughly 40 private citizens so far. That was through the night.

QUESTION: Haitians?

MR. CROWLEY: Americans. Just American citizens. I mean, we have somewhere between 40 and 45,000 American citizens in Haiti, and a small number have checked in. Some have actually come to the Embassy. A few of them have injuries, broken bones, that kind of thing. They are being treated in our health unit. A couple of people have been treated at the chancery in the ambassador’s residence. And when we are able to get – we may – there may be a Coast Guard helicopter that is arriving just about now that will be able to start to evacuate injured out of there.

QUESTION: Out of the Embassy?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: And that’s a Coast Guard helicopter?

MR. CROWLEY: Coast Guard helicopter.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And it will land at the Embassy?

MR. CROWLEY: It will land, I – it’s a fair question. My assumption is it will land at the airport.

QUESTION: And where will it go to?

MR. CROWLEY: Hmm?

QUESTION: Where will it go to?

MR. CROWLEY: Don’t know, but a fair question to ask the Coast Guard.

QUESTION: Are those – P.J., are those –

MR. CROWLEY: They might come from Guantanamo. It would be one option.

QUESTION: Are those – a lot of the Americans, are they actually registered? I mean, do you –

MR. CROWLEY: In some cases, if you’re an American citizen in Port-au-Prince, you could register with the Embassy and be part of kind of a phone tree. Some are; some aren’t.

QUESTION: So any information on how many Americans might have been killed, injured?

MR. CROWLEY: We have – right now, we have no confirmed deaths. We know of a dozen who are injured that we are helping at the Embassy. Clearly, that number is going to go up during the course of the day. The Coast Guard is sending –

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: How many do you have?

MR. CROWLEY: We have roughly a dozen --

QUESTION: A dozen.

MR. CROWLEY: -- who are being treated either at the Embassy in the medical unit there or, in a couple of cases, at the chancery by the ambassador and his staff.

QUESTION: You said that you’re beginning to flow citizens and non-essential personnel out. Why would you flow any U.S. Embassy personnel out of –

MR. CROWLEY: I didn’t say – all right, let me get to that in a second, okay? But obviously, there are American citizens, not Embassy employees –

QUESTION: No, I understand.

MR. CROWLEY: – at the airport, and we will help them depart whenever we can.

Let me make one other point. The Coast Guard has ships that are en route to Haiti. One could arrive – may be in the vicinity right now. Others will arrive both today and tomorrow. So we’re – you’re beginning – they have some capabilities, a helicopter platform, some limited medical capability on the ship. So you’re beginning to see the first personnel. We at the State Department are willing to – we will deploy whatever additional personnel are needed to be able to support and sustain operations at the Embassy, add to the security unit there as needed.

QUESTION: P.J. --

MR. CROWLEY: So these are things that we’ll be doing.

QUESTION: On the ships – could I just ask because it’s important?

MR. CROWLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: The ambassador had said that the most important thing they need right now is a hospital ship, and there apparently is one that could go in there. Has any hospital ship been sent?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the hospital ships are – I think there’s one berthed in Baltimore. My understanding is that the Comfort has begun to recall its crew. I’ll defer to the Navy and the Pentagon on that. But you’re right – we will be – we’re already beginning the process of – there are teams that are standing by in various parts of the United States. And now that we know that the airport appears to be open, serviceable, you’re going to see a flow.

The moment the earthquake happened yesterday, the Coast Guard identified ships that were in the vicinity and began the flow towards Port-au-Prince, and you’re seeing the first of those arrive here very soon.

QUESTION: Is it the Comfort that’s in Baltimore?

MR. CROWLEY: I think the Comfort’s in Baltimore, yeah.

QUESTION: What about other types of, like, emergency initial supplies like shelter, water?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, those are going to be priorities – how quickly we can get bulk supplies in there. But a ship like the Coast Guard ship will have a water generation capability. So these are all of the kinds of things that when we have the DART team on the ground early this afternoon, they will be starting to kind of line that stuff up – what can we get in, how fast can we get in, by what means. I think the military will be sending in an air traffic control team that – to really help make sure that you can run airport operations on an ongoing basis. And that was one of the things that President Preval mentioned to Ambassador Merten, because the airport’s going to be critical. The port at – the port of Port-au-Prince is going to be critical as we go through this.

To your point, one of the things that we will do at the State Department this morning is assess the American community in Port-au-Prince. Our Embassy community obviously has housing both adjacent to the Embassy and nearby. The housing came through the earthquake pretty well, but obviously, it’s – the stability of housing is in some cases open for question. Somebody was talking this morning about one of their houses that has a steel door on the front and the steel door is holding up the front facade of the house. So we’re assuming that some of the housing is not safe for habitation, so we’re going to be – we’re now starting to assess for ourselves how can we begin – as you’ve got airplanes that are moving in, obviously you have the opportunity to take citizens out, both private citizens and family members – that’s what I meant by nonessential personnel – so that again, you’re – we’ll begin to kind of relieve the burden on the Embassy so that all of our efforts can be concentrated on helping the people of Haiti.

QUESTION: And what about Embassy personnel, injuries to Embassy personnel? And you mentioned possibly sending in more security people for the Embassy. I understand you are sending in more security.

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, that would be a standard thing. I think one other thing just to mention, because the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was just out and Ambassador Susan Rice has talked to the secretary general this morning. He is understandably concerned about UN personnel, a significant number, maybe a hundred or so, that are trapped inside the Hotel Christophe. Most of the UN staff were in the hotel at the time. And so just as we are concerned and offering our prayers and hopes for the people of Haiti, likewise, for our UN colleagues and our other diplomatic colleagues, we’re very focused on their needs and certainly looking at the status of the UN force that is in Port-au-Prince. That’ll be one of our --

QUESTION: And presumably, there are Americans among that force?

MR. CROWLEY: There are Americans among that force, but also the special representative and the leadership of the UN contingent in Haiti has been very important to the support of Haiti over the years. So we will be helping them as we get assets on the ground.

QUESTION: Is he still missing or --

QUESTION: You never answered the question about any injuries to Embassy personnel.

MR. CROWLEY: I think among those dozen that I talked about who were at the Embassy or at the chancery, some of those are Embassy personnel, some of those are American citizens, some of those are family members of our Haitian employees. I don’t have a specific number.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple of things: First of all, in terms of coordinating, like, what is Cheryl Mills’s role right now? And then also, I don’t mean this in, you know, any exploitative way, but President Clinton is obviously the UN special rapporteur for Haiti. Has the Secretary spoken to him? Are they coordinating any efforts together and just kind of --

MR. CROWLEY: I have no specific information. I am confident that the Secretary has spoken to the President – President Clinton – during the course of the evening.

QUESTION: Well, just because, like, even before the earthquake, they’ve been working together on this (inaudible).

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – yeah, right. I mean, the Secretary has a long, close relationship with Haiti; the President has his UN role, and also, obviously, significant operations by the Clinton Global Initiative. So they are obviously heavily engaged in this. The Secretary, during the course of the evening and overnight, has been kept fully informed in Hawaii about the situation.

To your earlier question, we have a task force that we formed upstairs on the seventh floor. Counselor Mills is – along with Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, have been helping to run that task force, do the interagency coordination so that we’re tightly linked – the State Department, USAID, the military. I would say DHS has already come in and volunteered because behind – within the U.S. Government, behind USAID, you’ve got – FEMA has experience and assets and are standing by to provide additional support.

QUESTION: Is it correct – I heard this but I don’t know whether it’s correct – that the Secretary was actually going to meet with some Haitian officials – is that correct – on her trip?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take that question. I don’t know.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Has there been any thought to the Secretary breaking off her trip?

MR. CROWLEY: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: How about stepping in to fill in the UN void? Is there any thought to that?

MR. CROWLEY: We – Ambassador Rice has been in close contact last night and this morning with the Secretary General. We’re, first and foremost, going to pledge to help the UN in any way possible. I think as part of our international coordination, obviously, a variety of countries have troops that are contributors to the UN mission. If that force needs to be augmented in some way, we’ll take a look at that. But right now, I think the urgency that the Secretary General expressed, we understand and we’re going to provide that support to the UN as quickly as possible, is to try to free those who are trapped inside the rubble of the UN headquarters.

QUESTION: Right. What about the immediate law-and-order needs?

MR. CROWLEY: I think now that – I mean, I’m --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that. It is – it’s a difficult situation on a good day. And clearly, that – last night, we were in consultation with Haitian police and interior and justice officials. We’ll be – that’ll be part of what we assess, is what the Government of Haiti needs. Obviously, law and order will be an important element of this, and you’re right. Now, how rapidly we can get additional forces on the ground to begin to help Haiti, this is all part of the assessment that is ongoing now.

QUESTION: And P.J., at this point, have you --

MR. CROWLEY: We’ve got to wrap up in a minute.

QUESTION: Okay. Have you evacuated any Americans or are we still in the stage of getting them staged –

MR. CROWLEY: I think the first Americans to leave will be those who are wounded who can be transported to the airport who might come off on this Coast Guard helicopter that is – if it kept its schedule, is on the ground now.

QUESTION: Okay. Before I got here, I was looking at Charlie’s notes. You said something about something is leaving San Jose?

MR. CROWLEY: There’s a DART assessment team that will be leaving San Jose.

QUESTION: Texas?

MR. CROWLEY: San Jose --

QUESTION: California? California.

MR. CROWLEY: Costa Rica.

QUESTION: Oh, Costa Rica.

MR. CROWLEY: Rica, yeah --

QUESTION: Oh, oh. Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: -- and will be on the ground early this afternoon. Their assessment – they come with communications, and then the Fairfax search-and-rescue team under the current schedule will be on the ground by mid-afternoon.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: And will, like, the UN headquarters be one of the priorities? I mean, where do you --

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, that will be – what we’re doing this morning is – I mean, obviously, there’s an enormous need, but we have – we will be helping the UN as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.



PRN: 2010/038



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