U.S.: Haiti quake focus on 'saving lives'

Jan. 13, 2010 at 4:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The top U.S. priority in earthquake-ravaged Haiti is to save lives, the leader of the American relief effort said Wednesday.

USAID Administrator Raj Shah, appointed Wednesday by President Barack Obama to lead the U.S. Haiti earthquake response, told reporters in Washington that rescuers will be "very focused on saving lives" during the first 72 hours of the effort.

"We will do that by first putting in place significant disaster assistance relief teams," Shah said. "We'll have, by the end of today, 15 members of that team doing surveillance, collecting data, identifying priority sites, and guiding the efforts of the larger search-and-response units that will follow their entry into the country."

Also on the way to Haiti, he said, were a pair of 72-member urban search-and-rescue units who will "drill through and clear as much as is possible rubble in order to try and identify individuals that can be saved and continue with the mission of saving lives."

Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said he is working closely with USAID on the effort, adding the military's main priority is to reopen the Port-au-Prince airport.

"The word we are getting is that the airport is functional but the tower and the capability to operate there are limited, and so we're pushing capability there now to be able to operate and secure that airport," Fraser said.

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