State Department Focuses On Helping Haiti
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cut short a trip to Asia to return to Washington to deal with this week's earthquake in Haiti. She told reporters in Hawaii before flying home that the earthquake was a blow for a country that had been on the right track. It was also devastating for the United Nations mission, which up to now had been a success story.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton has had a long personal interest in Haiti. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is the U.N. special envoy for Haiti. And the secretary had her chief of staff working the issue well before the earthquake hit.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): 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.
KELEMEN: She said the U.S. is trying to help restore communications for the Haitian government. The most immediate priority though is to find survivors in a city of collapsed buildings. The U.N. headquarters was demolished by the earthquake, and Clinton said this is a tragedy for the U.N. on a scale similar to the 2003 bombing of the U.N. in Iraq.
Sec. CLINTON: 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 U.N. mission, is even more horrible in terms of loss of life.
KELEMEN: The Tunisian diplomat who runs the mission, Hedi Annabi, is believed to be among the dead. Last night, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would only say that Annabi is one of many U.N. officials who are still unaccounted for.
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): It is our estimate that around hundred people were still working inside the building at the time this earthquake struck. Therefore it will be in the range of 100-150 that I'm quite, you know, concerned about.
KELEMEN: He sent the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, Edmond Mullet, who was Annabi's predecessor to Haiti, to take over the mission and to help coordinate international relief efforts.
Rescue teams from the U.S. and China have arrived in Haiti, and the secretary-general says they're racing against time.
Mr. BAN: People buried under the rubble are still alive. We must save them, as many as possible. We must move immediately.
KELEMEN: Peacekeepers from Brazil, Jordan, Argentina and Chad were also among the victims. Still, U.N. officials say the peacekeeping force is out in the streets to ensure law and order, and the U.N. is planning to send in more officials to rebuild its mission.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.