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US sends aircraft carrier to help with Haiti earthquake damage

The US military is putting other ships on standby. In addition to assessing Haiti earthquake damage, officials are also keeping a close eye on the country's security and stability.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer / January 13, 2010

In this Jan. 12 photo provided by the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson departs from the Naval Station in Norfolk, Va. The aircraft carrier is expected to reach Haiti by Thursday afternoon, after loading up with relief supplies at a depot in Mayport, Fla.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Rafael Martie/US Navy/AP



The US government has begun to mobilize what is likely to become a massive humanitarian relief effort to deal with Haiti earthquake damage, rerouting an aircraft carrier and other ships, using aerial reconnaissance planes, and sending assessment teams to arrive later Wednesday.

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The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is expected to reach Haiti by Thursday afternoon, after loading up with relief supplies at a depot in Mayport, Fla., Pentagon officials say. A number of other ships, including the USNS Comfort hospital ship and a group of amphibious ships with a Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard, are on standby and may leave for Haiti in the next few days. In addition, the US Coast Guard has deployed a number of cutters that were already in the region, officials say.

But significant challenges loom. The main airport runway is in decent shape but for now will offer limited ability to absorb the massive amount of airlifted aid, said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command in Miami, during two briefings of reporters Wednesday in Washington.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is sending at least one assessment team of 25 individuals plus a dozen or so medical and other experts, who are due to arrive Wednesday. And a P-3 Orion reconnaissance plane is being used to create a more accurate picture of the devastation.

Haiti’s temblor, with a magnitude of 7.0, hit near the capital of Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon. Some have described the scene as reminiscent of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Hundreds of thousands of people could be dead, Haitian officials say.

According to the estimates of relief organizations, as many as 3 million people could be affected – about a third of the country’s population.

“This is a significant effort across the board,” Fraser said. But much is still unknown. “The bottom to it is we don’t have a clear assessment right now of what the situation on the ground is, what the needs within Port-au-Prince are, [and] how extensive the situation is,” he said.

The international response has been fairly immediate, but US officials are still mainly in assessment mode. It is important, Fraser said, to get a good sense of what is needed before sending assets that may be unnecessary.