Magnitude of Haiti quake forces Clinton to cancel trip


POSTED: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton abruptly canceled yesterday the rest of her Asia-Pacific trip to New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia because of this week's devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Clinton was supposed to leave yesterday morning for New Guinea, but after conferring with President Barack Obama and other members of his Cabinet and international leaders by phone for more than three hours from the Halawa Heights Pacific Command headquarters, Clinton told reporters that the scope of the “;catastrophic”; magnitude-7.0 earthquake was so “;overwhelming”; that she canceled the trip to coordinate humanitarian and other relief efforts from her State Department headquarters in Washington.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was supposed to stay overnight in Hawaii tomorrow, also called off a planned trip to Australia where he and Clinton were to attend an annual summit next week. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates postponed the Australia visit so he and Clinton “;can continue to work on the crisis in Haiti.”; Those meetings will be rescheduled.

Clinton said Haiti is “;facing a disaster of yet unknown magnitude and the problems that we are going to confront during the next days in particular is to try to launch successful search-and- rescue missions followed up by the immediate pressing needs for food and water. ...”;

“;Most urgently our priorities is search and rescue.”; Clinton said. “;We want to do everything we can to get as many people as possible to these collapsed buildings to try to save the lives of the tens of thousands of people who are trapped. In the coming days we have to work closely with the international community, the United Nations and the Haitian government to deal with the immediate and long-term consequences of this catastrophe.”;

One of the State Department's immediate concerns is the welfare of 45,000 Americans who live in Haiti, Clinton added.

Clinton recalled that she first visited the island nation in 1995 as first lady and that her husband — former President Bill Clinton — currently is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti. She talked with him several times before yesterday's news conference.

Tuesday's earthquake comes in the wake of four hurricanes that hit Haiti last year and is a “;devastating blow”; to the ongoing recovery efforts, Clinton said.

;[Preview]    Locals help Haiti earthquake victims

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She said the death toll will be “;one of the highest in terms of loss of life in recent years,”; referring to the quake that generated the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed about 230,000 people in December 2004.

In Papua New Guinea, Clinton was to hold bilateral meetings as well as meet with local leaders to discuss environmental protection and women's empowerment. That trip will be rescheduled, Clinton said, along with meetings with senior New Zealand officials including Prime Minister John Key.