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Clinton cancels Asia trip to help with Haiti earthquake response

By John Pomfret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; 6:36 PM

HONOLULU -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that she would cancel the remainder of her trip to the Asia-Pacific region because of the earthquake in Haiti, returning to Washington to help to coordinate the U.S. response to the disaster.

Clinton initially intended to continue her trip and to visit Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia. But spending five hours of consultations with world leaders, and as the extent of the devastation in Haiti became clearer, the secretary said she would return home.

Clinton called the earthquake a disaster of "unimaginable" proportions, and compared it to the 2004 tsunami that rocked Asia. "The scope of it is just overwhelming," she said.

Clinton was visibly shaken early Wednesday when she talked to reporters about the earthquake. She and her husband, Bill, honeymooned on Hispaniola decades ago, and Bill Clinton is the U.N. special envoy to Haiti.

"It is biblical the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people," she said. "It is so tragic. They had the four hurricanes last year. We had a good plan, we were feeling positive about how we could implement that plan."

And then, she said, "along comes Mother Nature and just flattens the whole place."

"We're going to give the people of Haiti the support they need as they go through yet another catastrophe," she said.

More than 45,000 American citizens are in Haiti, Clinton said. Already the U.S. Coast Guard has evacuated several seriously injured U.S. citizens to the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We are working as actively as we possibly can under extremely challenging circumstances," she said. "The United States is fully committed; the military is fully committed, and we're going to do everything we can to try and save as many lives and to help bring about an orderly environment in which aid and reconstruction can take place."

Clinton said the U.S. Embassy in Haiti "is working, given the communications challenges."

"We've had a number of Americans and Haitians showing up at the American Embassy seeking help," she said. Medical supplies at the embassy have been exhausted.

"Our ambassador has been trapped in his own home," she added, but the embassy's charge d'affairs was able to communicate.

Clinton said she called the leaders of Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia and they were understanding.

She said in Washington she would work to an coordinate international response.

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