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Updated: January 16, 2010 12:31 IST

U.S. cites limits on aid effort in Haiti

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Survivors of the massive earthquake sit on a street of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday while waiting for help to arrive
Survivors of the massive earthquake sit on a street of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Friday while waiting for help to arrive

The Obama administration on Friday acknowledged the limits of its initial relief efforts in Haiti, while promising a quick ramp-up in delivery of water and other badly needed supplies.

Dr. Rajiv Shah, the White House’s coordinator of the U.S. relief effort in Haiti, told reporters at the State Department that the main focus of U.S. efforts remains rescuing trapped survivors. Just last week, Shah became administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The administration’s promises Thursday of help being on the way turned Friday to grimmer talk: predictions that the situation in Haiti is likely to get worse - much worse - before it gets better.

“There are going to be many difficult days ahead,” said Obama, as he spoke for the fourth time on the disaster in three days.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced she would visit Haiti on Saturday to confer with President Rene Preval and other Haitian leaders {mdash} as well as U.S. and international civilian and military officials - on how to further shape the recovery effort and help the government get back on its feet. She cited a “race against time” to stabilize the country before anxiety and anger create additional problems.

Clinton also thanked the Cuban government for opening its airspace to emergency U.S. flights in and out of Haiti.

Shah indicated that relief supplies will begin flowing more freely in the next few days. He said he has pulled together $48 million worth of food assistance that will be sufficient to feed the affected 2 million Haitians for several months. And he said 100,000 ten-liter containers of water will be provided soon.

He and others also said there have been severe physical and logistical limitations on delivery of aid.

The major limitation, he said, is the inability to use the main port at Port-au-Prince, due to extensive damage from the quake, and the presence of only one airport at which to receive shipments of food, water, medicines and other relief items.

The arrival Friday of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was like suddenly having “a second airport,” Crowley said.

Up to 10,000 U.S. troops will be in Haiti or off its shores by Monday to help distribute aid and prevent potential rioting among desperate survivors, according to the military. Officials disclosed on Friday that immediately after the quake, one of the Air Force’s newest unmanned surveillance aircraft, known as the Global Hawk, was redirected from an undisclosed location to survey the damage in Haiti.

Obama pledged long-term reconstruction help in a telephone call to President Rene Preval. He also said Haitians should recognize the constraints on getting assistance to them immediately.

The State Department raised the confirmed U.S. death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake to six and said 15 other Americans are presumed to have died. A department spokesman predicted the U.S. toll will rise even further as search-and-rescue efforts in the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince continued.

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