As Tropical Depression Grace pounded Haiti late Monday, rescue teams from the United States, Chile and other countries scrambled to help locate residents still trapped after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake pancaked homes and churches, busted roads and killed at least 1,400 people.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has rushed in a search and rescue team from Fairfax, Va., helicopters and more than 50,000 pounds of equipment. And an assessment team is on the ground to determine what more the U.S. should do after Saturday's quake, said Sarah Charles, a spokesperson at USAID.
“We’re very much in response mode,” Charles told POLITICO, noting that 5 inches of heavy rain was expected from Tropical Depression Grace, which could cause flash flooding or mudslides. “I think we will have a clearer picture in maybe the coming weeks.”
Members of Congress are also keeping a close eye on the situation on the ground in Haiti, said Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents the Little Haiti area in Miami.
The Congressional Haitian Staff Association is working with the House Appropriations Committee and the Haitian Consulate General’s office in Miami to assess how much funding should be directed to disaster response efforts in the southern part of the country, which has suffered the most damage, Wilson said.
“I’m sure [a number will be reached] by the end of the week,” she said. “I don't think, right now, I can put a total price tag.”
Wilson pointed to security, homelessness, food insecurity, lack of clean water, poor sanitation and health care as major issues that she expects will be included in their assessment.
USAID has already dispatched 38 disaster experts from its Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and 65 urban search and rescue members and four canines from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, along with thousands of pounds of specialized tools and equipment, Charles said.
And at the agency’s request, U.S. Southern Command has provided eight helicopters to help with air transport for personnel and supplies, Charles added.
The U.S. Coast Guard is also involved, performing medevac missions and the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team began search and rescue operations and conducted ground assessments, she said.
The agency is “very quickly responding to what we anticipate are very significant health, water and sanitation protection needs,” Charles said.
In addition to the U.S. government, numerous charitable organizations have stepped in to help, including the World Central Kitchen and Team Rubicon, which were formed shortly after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake that claimed more than 250,000 lives.
Team Rubicon, which provides global disaster relief, has sent two teams totaling six individuals to assess damage and match needs to services.
“It’s not just damage assessment; it’s assessment of needs,” said CEO Art delaCruz, who stressed the importance of being committed to humanitarian efforts in Haiti since 2010. “We need the international community in this moment, which is inclusive of us. [We] can't impose what we think is correct. We have to work closely with them to ensure that what we deliver aids in the moment and in long-term stability.”
Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen, which has a culinary school in Port-au-Prince, said the organization currently has two kitchens operating in the capital and assessing plans for a third in Jérémie, a southern city especially devastated by the quake.
A fully equipped kitchen can easily produce 20,000 to 25,000 meals per day and though WCK is still working through logistical complexities, such as securing refrigeration and ingredients to get to that point, Mook expects to be making thousands of meals very soon.
“I'm pretty confident that within the next day or two, we'll be cooking at least 10,000 meals a day, if not more,” he said.
Some of the charitable organizations have already begun to coordinate with the U.S. government as it ramps up its response. But some disaster experts say the U.S. is not moving fast enough to help in the quake zone, where some residents remain trapped under buildings.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, who led the U.S. military response to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, told POLITICO’s NatSec Daily the Biden administration should quicken the pace of assistance.
“Logistical support is the key capability that the U.S. could provide, particularly in the form of airlift (helo) and logistical assets to assist [and] support the government and non-government organizations that are on the ground in the affected area,” he said. “I know the [U.S. Coast Guard] is already providing some helo support, so that is great but I think more assets are needed.”
“Working with the U.N. and Haitian government officials, the U.S. needs to develop a command and control structure that can help organize, coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with all the government, NGOs, and other nations that are sending or have organizations responding to help,” he said.
Charles maintained USAID is working in close coordination with the Haitian government and touted air support from the Defense Department.
“I will say that we are working very closely with the government of Haiti and have called on the unique capabilities of the Department of Defense, including around logistics and air support and we’ll be working with them very closely in the coming days,” Charles said.
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