A Grim Mission Begins For Haiti Relief Workers

Chinese rescue workers head for Haiti i

Chinese rescue workers stand at Beijing's airport Wednesday before heading to Haiti, which was hit by a powerful earthquake the previous day. Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti are reportedly buried in the rubble or remain missing. Kyodo via AP hide caption

itoggle caption Kyodo via AP
Chinese rescue workers head for Haiti

Chinese rescue workers stand at Beijing's airport Wednesday before heading to Haiti, which was hit by a powerful earthquake the previous day. Chinese peacekeepers in Haiti are reportedly buried in the rubble or remain missing.

Kyodo via AP

Rescue workers in Haiti scrambled Wednesday to aid an estimated 3 million hurt and homeless people, as major international relief agencies reported that their offices were among those that collapsed in Tuesday's earthquake that hit the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

"The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be ... saving lives," said Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. "We have two significant search and rescue teams — each of 72 people with a range of technical capacities and equipment — that will be able to go in today and to begin an aggressive search and rescue operation."

The United Nations, American Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders were still accounting for staff members, even as relief efforts got under way shortly after the magnitude 7.0 quake struck on Tuesday evening. Those agencies and others have ongoing medical projects in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The French, Mexican and Venezuelan governments also announced they were sending aid to the region.

France-based Doctors Without Borders said on its Web site that the organization had to set up tents to replace its own damaged buildings in Haiti.

"The situation is chaotic," said Stefano Zannini, a DWB staff member who spent most of Tuesday night trying to asses the state of medical facilities. "I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning."

  • Injured people rest in the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday, two days after the devastating 7.0 quake.
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    Injured people rest in the streets of Port-au-Prince Thursday, two days after the devastating 7.0 quake.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Rescuers carry an injured girl down the street after digging her out of the rubble Thursday.
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    Rescuers carry an injured girl down the street after digging her out of the rubble Thursday.
    Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images
  • Virginia Cary, of Cleveland, Tenn. waits at the Port-au-Prince airport in hopes of a return flight to the U.S.
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    Virginia Cary, of Cleveland, Tenn. waits at the Port-au-Prince airport in hopes of a return flight to the U.S.
    Lynne Sladky/AP
  • Fireman attempt to put out a blaze in Port-au-Prince Thursday.
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    Fireman attempt to put out a blaze in Port-au-Prince Thursday.
    Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images
  • After 50 hours trapped, James Girly, 64, is rescued from the remains of the Montana Hotel by the French military.  (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
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    After 50 hours trapped, James Girly, 64, is rescued from the remains of the Montana Hotel by the French military. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  • Workers dig for bodies in a fight against time.
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    Workers dig for bodies in a fight against time.
    Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/Getty Images
  • A woman who lost a hand lies on the ground outside a makeshift recovery ward in Port-au-Prince Friday.
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    A woman who lost a hand lies on the ground outside a makeshift recovery ward in Port-au-Prince Friday.
    Chris Hondros/Getty Images
  • An injured child waits for medical attention near a damaged hospital in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Friday.
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    An injured child waits for medical attention near a damaged hospital in Carrefour, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Friday.
    Ariana Cubillos/AP
  • People line up to for gasoline. Aid organizations are struggling  to get needed resources to survivors.
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    People line up to for gasoline. Aid organizations are struggling to get needed resources to survivors.
    Lynne Sladky/AP
  • People line up to receive water, an in-demand commodity, from a firetruck in Port-au-Prince.
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    People line up to receive water, an in-demand commodity, from a firetruck in Port-au-Prince.
    Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
  • Earthquake survivors use water from a fountain to bathe in the central public garden of Port-au-Prince.
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    Earthquake survivors use water from a fountain to bathe in the central public garden of Port-au-Prince.
    Francois Mori/AP
  • People wave at a helicopter in the center of Port-au-Prince. Aid efforts are slow to reach the Haitian capital.
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    People wave at a helicopter in the center of Port-au-Prince. Aid efforts are slow to reach the Haitian capital.
    Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images
  • The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming relief efforts.
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    The magnitude of the disaster is overwhelming relief efforts.
    Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
  • Bolivian U.N. Blue Helmet soldiers stand guard at an aid center in Port-au-Prince as a group of Haitians carries a victim.
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    Bolivian U.N. Blue Helmet soldiers stand guard at an aid center in Port-au-Prince as a group of Haitians carries a victim.
    Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
  • A staff member from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, treats an injured man.
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    A staff member from the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH, treats an injured man.
    Logan Abassi/UN
  • Men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross estimates that more than 50,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake.
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    Men carry an injured relative in Port-au-Prince. The Haitian Red Cross estimates that more than 50,000 people may have been killed in the earthquake.
    Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
  • A member of the Fairfax Country Urban Search & Rescue Team and her K-9 partner search the U.N. Headquarters for more survivors after freeing a man who was trapped for 40 hours in the rubble.
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    A member of the Fairfax Country Urban Search & Rescue Team and her K-9 partner search the U.N. Headquarters for more survivors after freeing a man who was trapped for 40 hours in the rubble.
    Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
  • Aid trickled in Thursday morning. Here, Maurice Cain, senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, unloads humanitarian supplies from Panama at the Port-au-Prince airport.
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    Aid trickled in Thursday morning. Here, Maurice Cain, senior airman with the U.S. Air Force, unloads humanitarian supplies from Panama at the Port-au-Prince airport.
    Lynne Sladky/AP
  • A U.N. peacekeeper from Chile works in the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
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    A U.N. peacekeeper from Chile works in the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
    Ramon Espinosa/AP
  • With thousands missing and the death toll climbing, dazed survivors wander amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince two days after the devastating earthquake.
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    With thousands missing and the death toll climbing, dazed survivors wander amid the ruins of Port-au-Prince two days after the devastating earthquake.
    Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
  • Haitians walk though streets filled with rubble and bodies.
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    Haitians walk though streets filled with rubble and bodies.
    Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
  • Displaced people create makeshift shelters out of tarps and sheets.
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    Displaced people create makeshift shelters out of tarps and sheets.
    Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
  • A woman prepares a bed in the street Tuesday night after the quake.
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    A woman prepares a bed in the street Tuesday night after the quake.
    Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
  • Many Haitians spent a second night on the streets. Here, people gather on a square in Port-au-Prince's Petionville district.
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    Many Haitians spent a second night on the streets. Here, people gather on a square in Port-au-Prince's Petionville district.
    Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  • Members of the congregation of First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. pray for the earthquake victims Thursday. The pastor's son is believed to have been killed in the quake.
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    Members of the congregation of First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. pray for the earthquake victims Thursday. The pastor's son is believed to have been killed in the quake.
    Clint Austin/AP/Duluth News Tribune
  • Members of Canada's Haitian community comfort each other at the Haitian-Canadian Community Center in Montreal.
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    Members of Canada's Haitian community comfort each other at the Haitian-Canadian Community Center in Montreal.
    Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press/AP

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The American Red Cross teamed Tuesday night with the Haiti Red Cross to begin providing relief to thousands in a makeshift shelter, said Eric Porterfield, spokesman for the American Red Cross international services division.

Kits with kitchen supplies and water purification tablets for 5,000 families were in the pipeline from an American Red Cross warehouse in Panama, Porterfield said. He said providing clean water and food will be a top priority in the coming days. The agency has also released an initial $200,000 for the effort, and disaster specialists are on the way.

Photographs coming out of the country showed widespread devastation in the capital city, where schools, churches, hospitals — even the National Palace where the president resides — had collapsed. People, their faces dusted with concrete and dirt, looked dazed as relief workers tended their wounds.

Vatican officials said the Roman Catholic Church has marshaled its charity organizations to begin relief efforts immediately.

"I appeal to the generosity of everyone, so that our brothers and sisters receive our concrete solidarity and the effective support of the international community in this moment of need and suffering," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Catholics also mourned the loss of Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, whose body was found in the ruins of his office.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said relief supplies may get into the country more easily than first feared because it appears that the Port-au-Prince airport is operational. The U.S. is gearing up to send cargo planes and ships with supplies, as Navy and Coast Guard crews fly reconnaissance missions over Haiti to determine the scope of the damage.

The U.S. Air Force is also ready to fly in humanitarian and medical supplies aboard C-130 cargo planes, and Navy ships in Norfolk, Va., are on standby with additional supplies.

Civilian disaster assistance teams from Florida, Virginia and California wasted no time in assisting. Some teams were due to arrive Thursday in Haiti, while others were preparing to leave later in the day with more medical equipment and emergency personnel.

More than 70 members of Virginia Task Force 1, a Fairfax County, Va., urban search and rescue team, left from Dulles International Airport near Washington with six specially trained dogs to help sniff out survivors trapped in the debris of collapsed buildings. The team includes technical rescue personnel, physicians, paramedics, structural engineers, support personnel and about 48 tons of rescue equipment and supplies. Team members are self-sustaining for about 14 days.

The task force previously worked in Haiti, in the town of Petionville, when a school collapsed in November 2008. It also worked to free people trapped in the debris after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, the Pentagon attack, and hurricanes Katrina and Isabel, as well as a bombing in Kenya and earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan and Iran.

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