Michelle Obama visits Haiti, sees quake devastation

By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (BestGrowthStock) – First lady Michelle Obama made an unannounced visit to disaster-stricken Haiti on Tuesday and said she was struck by the devastation inflicted by the January 12 earthquake on the poor Caribbean country.

Starting her first solo international trip as first lady, the 46-year-old wife of President Barack Obama made the stopover in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince en route to an April 13-15 visit to Mexico. She arrived with Jill Biden, the wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

“It’s powerful. The devastation is definitely powerful,” Obama told reporters when asked for her first impressions after flying over the wrecked Haitian capital in a U.S. Army helicopter.

She was greeted at the presidential palace, which partly collapsed in the quake, by President Rene Preval and his wife.

The first lady and Mrs. Biden visited a center for child quake victims in Port-au-Prince, where children welcomed her with a song, and then joined them in painting.

The January 12 quake has been described by some experts as the deadliest natural disaster in modern history and Haiti’s government says may have killed more than 300,000 people. Immediately after it hit, President Obama ordered thousands of U.S. soldiers and aid workers to spearhead a huge international relief effort.

“First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are visiting Haiti to underscore to the Haitian people and the Haitian government the enduring U.S. commitment to help Haiti recover and rebuild, especially as we enter the rainy and hurricane seasons,” the White House said in a statement.

Although most Haitians have unstintingly praised the U.S. assistance, many have asked why Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, has not been among the world leaders who have visited Haiti, whose independence in 1804 following a slave revolt created the world’s first independent black republic.

Michelle Obama’s visit may go some way toward assuaging such feelings in a country — just two hours flying time from the United States — where her husband is very popular.

International aid workers are striving to care for more than 1 million homeless Haitian quake survivors who are camped out in makeshift tent and shelter communities sprawled across the capital and in other damaged towns.

Relief agencies have started moving some survivors to a more secure prepared settlement. But fears persist that unless safer, more permanent shelter is found for the hundreds of thousands of homeless quake victims, the imminent rains, and the hurricane season starting on June 1, could cause another humanitarian catastrophe.

“The conditions are inhuman, the conditions are challenging. We need to turn it around,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, who is also visiting Haiti, told Reuters on Monday.

Some aid groups have criticized the government and the United Nations for being slow to set up alternative safer sites.

At a donors’ conference in New York on March 31, governments, multilateral institutions and non-governmental organizations from around the world pledged nearly $10 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction.

Penny Stocks

(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Bill Trott)

Michelle Obama visits Haiti, sees quake devastation