Let me start by just thanking General Darnell and the whole team here at PACOM for taking us in and allowing us to have the opportunity to communicate as broadly as we needed to.
As I said earlier this morning, I’ve been staying in close touch with our team back in Washington to monitor developments in the wake of this catastrophic earthquake. And we’ve received a lot of additional information. I’ve spoken with the President, with the National Security Council, with Secretary Gates, Administrator Shah, as well as numerous other State Department officials, to talk through exactly what is happening on the ground. I delayed my departure this morning in order to make additional calls, to gather more information, and to get thoroughly briefed by the military as well as our civilian teams about how quickly assistance was flowing, what kind of assistance was needed.
In addition, I’ve spoken with a number of international leaders – the president of the Dominican Republic, which has been very helpful in providing direct assistance. As you know, they share a border with Haiti. They suffered some minor damage, but they have been sending assistance over their border to try to help, including food and medical personnel. Their military airport is also serving as a staging ground for others who are trying to get into Haiti.
I spoke with the Canadian foreign minister. Canada has a longtime commitment to Haiti, which they are very focused on doing all they can now to continue, as well as to add additional resources. I spoke with the French foreign minister, who informed me that there were planes coming from France and from some French nearby islands in the Caribbean.
The Brazilian foreign minister and I discussed the loss of life in the UN mission. The Brazilians, as you know, play a major role in Haiti and have been extremely supportive of the Haitian people over the last number of years. President Lula spoke with President Obama. We will be closely coordinating as we go forward.
I’ve spoken to a number of others, but I think that the general impression is that we are facing a disaster of as yet unknown magnitude. And the problems that we’re going to confront over the next days in particular as we try to launch successful search-and-rescue missions, followed up by the immediate pressing need for food and water in particular, are just of unimaginable extent. Therefore, I’ve decided to cancel the remainder of my trip and return to Washington this afternoon.
The President has ordered an aggressive and coordinated strategy to address the difficult conditions we face in providing assistance to the Haitian people and then following through in the weeks and months ahead to help with their reconstruction. The President has named our new USAID Administrator Raj Shah to coordinate that effort. I have every confidence that Raj will continue in that role with the same caring and competence that he has always shown. We are obviously bringing in additional resources to support him. He just took the job, was sworn into the job a couple of days ago and had not had a chance to really staff up USAID, which many of you know has been depleted over the last years. So we are working to augment what Raj has on hand.
I want to take a moment to thank the tens of thousands of people who have already donated to relief efforts. As a reminder, you can donate by texting Haiti, H-a-i-t-i, to 90999 and $10 will automatically be billed to your cell phone. We’ve already raised nearly a million dollars through this State Department text messaging initiative.
There continue to be a great deal of inquiries about friends and family in Haiti. There are up to 45,000 American citizens in Haiti. And the public number to call for questions or information is in the State Department and that number is 1-888-407-4747.
Now, most urgently, our priority is search-and-rescue. We want to do everything we can to try to get as many people as possible as close to these collapsed buildings as is able now to see if we can save any of the lives of the tens of thousands of people who are trapped in the collapsed buildings.
But in the coming days, we will have to also work closely with the international community, with the United Nations, as well as with the Haitian Government and people to deal with the immediate and long-term consequences of this catastrophe. I have long been concerned about and interested in Haiti, having made my first visit in 1975. As many of you know, my husband is the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Haiti. We had in the Obama Administration set up a high-level team to coordinate across the government to work with the Haitian Government to try to help them recover from the four hurricanes they were hit with last year and to attain a more stable economic situation.
And we were making lots of progress. We had a lot of businesses opening up and interested in moving to Haiti. We had a good plan that the Haitian Government developed that we were working with them to implement. And there was a lot of hope about what the future might hold for Haiti.
This is not only a physical catastrophe, but it’s just a devastating blow to the people of Haiti. But I have seen their resilience. I have seen their joy and their hopefulness in the face of very difficult circumstances over many years now. So I am confident that once we get through this period of great tragedy, we will have the opportunity along with our colleagues around the world to once again help the Haitian people toward that better future. MODERATOR:
We’ll take a few questions. Andy Quinn of Reuters.QUESTION:
Madame Secretary, thank you. Firstly, I’m just wondering, is it your assessment that Haiti today has in any way a functioning government? And secondly, what – we know in the past that Haiti has been the source of refugees to other places in the region. How much of a concern is it that this disaster could send new waves of refugees out to Florida and elsewhere, and what sorts of contingency plans is the U.S. putting in place about that?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Andy, as you may know, the government buildings in Haiti were severely damaged. The President is alive but has nowhere to live. There is no communications system. We are attempting to help set up a communications capability for the government. The United Nations, which, as you know, provided a lot of the authoritative assistance for the Haitian Government, not only through MINUSTAH, the peacekeeping operation, but a very large UN mission that was focused on helping us to implement this broad plan for development and economic growth, has been devastated. So both the Haitian Government and the United Nations were particularly hard hit.
I just have to say a word. The United Nations has suffered grievous losses. Some of us remember the devastating bombing in Baghdad and the bombing in Afghanistan. This earthquake and the damage that it has imposed on the UN mission is even more horrible in terms of loss of life.
So we have a lot of work to do. Part of what we’re doing with our coordinated civilian-military strategy is to try to set up the rudiments for communication and assertion of authority. The peacekeepers are getting back out into the streets, which will be important. But we still don’t have a full assessment of everything that has been affected.
What was your second question? I’m sorry.QUESTION:
The possibility of refugees.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Yeah. That is something that we obviously are concerned about, but right now the island is so devastated it will be very difficult to focus on that as our primary mission. We will have our Coast Guard out, as they always are. We have a lot of Haitians living in the United States, as you know. Many, many are there as legal citizens and residents. Others are not. It will be important that they continue to be able to send back remittances and support their family members. So we’re looking at this broadly and we’ll have more to say about it probably in the next couple of days.
Hi. Obviously, you’re going back to Washington and you will discuss – try to coordinate international relief. Can you give us an idea of the scale of relief you expect and also what countries could play a big role? You mentioned Brazil, but I don’t think you mentioned it in the context of relief. SECRETARY CLINTON:
Oh, yes, they are already prepared to make a generous contribution to a relief effort. I discussed with the foreign minister the need to coordinate our donors and make sure that we know how we’re going to best spend that money. I think you’ll see an outpouring of support. There are longtime donors like the Canadians and the French who are very committed. When I called my counterparts in Australia and New Zealand to tell them that I very regretfully could not be coming on this trip, they said, look, we have special rescue teams, we have some potential financial help. I mean, this is going to be global because I think as people watch this unfold on their televisions, the extent of it is just beyond the imagination. I think it’s the most severe earthquake to hit Haiti, and maybe in the Caribbean, for 250 years.QUESTION:
To rally support, do you think you’ll need to call an international donors conference?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, Lachlan, we’re not sure. That probably is something down the road. But we have so much immediate work to get through first. But one of the reasons I’m going back is to begin that process, working closely with the United Nations, which is kind of easy for me since my husband is the special envoy. So we’ve talked several times as well today. He’s been at the UN all day. The UN is trying to regroup from this terrible loss and figure out who is going to be sent down there.
So there will definitely be a lot of international consultation and efforts undertaken, but I can’t give you the details about that now. QUESTION:
Just one more?SECRETARY CLINTON:
You alluded to it earlier. You said you had felt obligated or we felt obligated – you and Secretary Gates – to attend the AUSMIN conference.SECRETARY CLINTON:
So what’s the effect of not going now?SECRETARY CLINTON:
Well, thankfully, these are very good friends and they know that we wouldn't be canceling were it not for something of this magnitude. When I talked to the foreign minister, he was very understanding. I told him we would try to reschedule as soon as we can find a mutually convenient time.
I talk to the foreign minister all the time. I know that Secretary Gates talks to his counterpart all the time. So we have a very close consultative relationship and we will reschedule the AUSMIN as soon as we can. QUESTION:
And Papua New Guinea and New Zealand?SECRETARY CLINTON:
I will definitely reschedule Papua New Guinea. I talked with the prime minister. We are looking forward to going there and it will be on the same trip, I’m sure. And similarly with New Zealand, where we’ve forged close working ties with the new government over the past year and we’re going to continue to deepen those as we move forward. MODERATOR:
We have time for a last question from (inaudible).SECRETARY CLINTON:
Hi there. We’ve heard that there was also a powerful earthquake in Indonesia today. Do you have any information about that situation?SECRETARY CLINTON:
I do not yet have any information about that. But obviously, if there is need, we will stand ready to help Indonesia as well.QUESTION:
In terms of the Haiti situation, based on what you know so far, how do you think that ranks in terms of global catastrophes (inaudible)?SECRETARY CLINTON:
This is going to be one of the highest in terms of loss of life in recent years, so far as we can tell. The estimates are very high. I don’t want to repeat them because we can’t verify them; we just know what we’re hearing anecdotally. But the Indian Ocean tsunami was such a terrible tragedy and with such high loss of life. This will be a very high loss of life as well.MODERATOR:
Thank you all.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you very much.