WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said his thoughts and prayers were with the people of Haiti, where a strong earthquake hit on Tuesday, and that the U.S. stood ready to help the island nation.
White House officials said Obama also had asked aides to make sure U.S. personnel at the embassy in Port-au-Prince were safe. There are fewer than 20 U.S. military personnel in Haiti, largely working with the embassy there.
Officials also said Obama told them to start preparing in case humanitarian assistance was needed.
The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Southern Command have started to coordinate.
“There are emergency meetings going on right now,” State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. “We need to gather what information we can quickly. We will of course assist in any way we can.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said, “This is the worst possible time for a natural disaster in Haiti, a country which is still recovering from the devastating storms of just over a year ago.”
Engel urged the administration “to do everything possible to help” the Haitian people recover.