Remarks on The Situation in Haiti
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: Hello, everybody. I have, as you might guess, been on the phone all morning and have at least made contact with the major players in our efforts on behalf of Haiti. The situation is horrific and, unfortunately, we do not have the kind of information yet that gives us a roadmap as to how we’re going to be able to respond effectively, although we are moving a lot of our assets to position them to be able to do so.
I’ve spoken with the President, I’ve spoken with Secretary Gates, I’ve spoken with Administrator Raj Shah, I’ve spoken with Cheryl Mills, I’ve spoken with General Cartwright, and my team has spoken with many others.
I am going to go to Pacific Command right now, which has the necessary communications capacity, to do some additional outreach not only back to Washington but to some of our partners in the region. There are a number of nations who are in the same position we find ourselves, trying to figure out how to get safely into Port-au-Prince. The airport, as you’ve heard, is not yet fully evaluated. We should have a team on the ground momentarily, if they’re not there right now.
QUESTION: U.S. Military?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. Yes. A U.S. military team on the ground to do the assessment, to try to establish an air traffic control system. There was some issue this morning with journalists and others trying to get into Haiti with no option for air traffic control other than visual. And obviously we can’t, or other nations can’t, bring in the kind of heavy lift planes that are needed.
You probably know we have 45,000 American citizens in Haiti. They are our principal responsibility, to make sure that they’re safe, to evacuate those who need medical care. The Coast Guard was able to get close to Port-au-Prince – the port has some damage as well – and through the use of helicopters, air-evacuated a number of American citizens.
The international nature of this is a real opportunity as well as a challenge. The UN is deeply troubled by the reports coming out of the UN mission. As you know, there are at least 7,000 Brazilian peacekeepers on the ground. But the head of the UN mission has not been found yet. We will look closely with the UN. My husband happens to be the UN Special Envoy. He is closely communicating with and working with working with American principals from the White House, the State Department, and USAID, and with the UN.
So we are working as actively as we possibly can under extremely challenging circumstances. But the United States is fully committed. Our military is fully committed. Our search-and-rescue teams are on the way or are about to be on the way. And we’re going to do everything we can to try to save as many lives and to help bring about an orderly environment in which aid and reconstruction can take place.
QUESTION: Are you thinking about going back to Washington (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Bob, we’ve been talking about that. I think that, having talked with everybody including the President this morning, I will do the work I need to do from PACOM. We’ll go on with the trip, but we will do everything we can schedule-wise to compress it. We don’t yet have the information about how best to do that.
QUESTION: So in other words, you will do the Australian ministerial but maybe not –
SECRETARY CLINTON: No, we’re looking at everything.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, we’re not – we’re looking at everything, because these are also very important travel destinations for a lot of Americans’ interests. And speaking with the President, he and I agreed that I should go on with the trip, but we should try to figure out how we can appropriately shorten it. Secretary Gates will be coming out to Australia in a few days, and this has been long scheduled and we feel an obligation to –
QUESTION: Are you hearing any –
QUESTION: Could you speak a little bit about whether or not your personal stake, and maybe the honeymoon there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I did.
QUESTION: You have long ties to –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know, John, it is Biblical, the tragedy that continues to daunt Haiti and the Haitian people. It is so tragic. They had the four hurricanes last year. We had a good plan. We were just feeling positive about how we could implement that plan. It was US, UN, international. We had donors lined up. We had private businesses beginning to make investments. There was so much hope about Haiti’s future, hope that had not been present for years. And along comes Mother Nature and just flattens it.
So I remain committed, as I know the President, our Administration, the American people do. And we’re going to give the people of Haiti the support they need as they go through yet another catastrophe.
QUESTION: How does the Embassy Warden system – are you getting any reports on how that worked, and do you have any preliminary sense within the State Department on what kind of casualties you’re looking at down there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the warden system is working, given the communications challenges. We’ve had a number of not only Americans, but Haitians show up at our Embassy seeking help. We’ve exhausted the supply of medical supplies that we had at the Embassy. The outreach is ongoing to try to account for all Americans that we can possibly reach. Our Ambassador has been trapped in his own home. The Chargé has done a very good job communicating, because we could get through to him.
But finally, the Ambassador received a call from President Preval saying that he was alive but unable to communicate with his own cabinet. So our focus on American lives and injuries is paramount, but we are also trying to get positioned to be in the lead on helping the Haitians along with our international partners.
QUESTION: How many American casualties do you plan to bring out? How many Americans (inaudible)?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Lachlan, we don’t have those numbers yet. I mean, I told you we found eight injured people, four serious enough that they had to be evacuated for medical care.
QUESTION: Eight injured Americans?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Injured, yeah, injured Americans, yeah. And so the four who are most seriously injured been evacuated, but there will be many more. How many, we don’t know yet.