Haiti Earthquake FAQ (January 15, 2010)

Frequently Asked Questions

What happened?

  • The 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti near the capital of Port-au-Prince caused catastrophic damage and significant loss of life.
  • An estimated 3 million people are affected. 
  • Priority needs are food, water, temporary shelter, medical services and emotional support.
  • While search and rescue efforts continue, thousands remain trapped and the death toll is rising.
  • In some areas, 70 percent of the houses have been damaged. Thousands of survivors spent a third night out in the open without shelter. People are camping out at around 40 gathering points throughout the city, too scared to spend the night inside damaged buildings that could collapse at any moment.

What challenges is the Red Cross experiencing in this response?

  • Due to the challenging conditions in Haiti of damaged or destroyed transportation and power systems, it is taking longer than we or other relief agencies want, but we are working as hard and fast as we can to get staff and supplies in there. The people we already have on the ground – and the Haitian Red Cross – are doing everything possible under the most difficult of circumstances.
  • The airport tower is unreliable therefore many flights are being diverted and the cranes needed to unload boats have been damaged, rendering them inoperable. While the airport is operational for humanitarian flights, there is a huge backlog and the Red Cross is among the organizations waiting for clearance for local authorities. The port is not expected to open until January 18.
  • Police, fire response and medical teams are overwhelmed and the overall security situation is tense. Food and water supplies are limited, contributing to people’s anxiety.
  • Many areas are accessible, but some roads are covered with debris, making travel within the capital city difficult.
  • There is a near-total blackout in Port-au-Prince. Due to limited electricity, communications remain difficult with unreliable land and cellular lines, which are critically important to coordinate and direct a massive response such as this.

What types of assistance has the Red Cross been able to provide?

  • A handful of disaster responders from the American Red Cross have arrived in Port-au-Prince and are coordinating with local and international partners to overcome the logistical challenges and bring aid into the country.
  • These individuals join the 15-person staff we already had on the ground and 12 Red Cross teams that arrived from other countries yesterday. Among them are engineers, surgeons and family linking specialists. These teams will establish field hospitals, restore water and sanitation systems, distribute supplies and restore family links facilities.
  • The Red Cross provided blood and blood products to the US Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida. That blood, requested by the US Navy, was shipped by the US Navy to their facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in support of medical evacuees from Haiti. In addition, the American Red Cross sent a shipment of blood products to the United Nations Mission in Haiti.

ADDITIONAL INFO: At this point, no specific request has been made by the Haitian government for the American Red Cross to provide blood or blood products to support treatment of the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. The American Red Cross ships blood overseas, if available, at the request of the foreign government involved in the disaster.

  • A second plane, carrying 40 tons of supplies – mainly medical items – is en route to Haiti. Included on the International Committee of the Red Cross-sponsored flight are specialized kits to help treat the wounded, basic medicines and chlorine for water treatment.
  • Yesterday, International Committee of the Red Cross workers in Port-au-Prince provided medical assistance to five major hospitals and clinics, as well as to smaller facilities set up by local doctors in areas with a high concentration of earthquake survivors.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross is also helping to reconnect separated families within the country. They have established a special Web site, enabling persons in Haiti and abroad to search for and register the names of relatives missing since the earthquake:www.icrc.org/familylinks. Within 48 hours of its launch, more than 13,800 visited the site looking for loved ones.

ADDITIONAL INFO: About 1,100 people have registered on the site from Haiti to inform their loved ones that they are safe and well.

What does the Red Cross expect to provide in terms of assistance within the next few days, weeks and months?

  • Two planes carrying Red Cross humanitarian assistance are due to land this afternoon in Port-au-Prince, if they are not re-routed. The first one carries a field hospital and the second carries tarps, blankets, hygiene items, buckets, shelter supplies and kitchen sets.
  • Today, the American Red Cross is working with airport authorities to transport additional items from our global warehouse in Panama into Port-au-Prince.
  • Given the massive needs and the extent of the damage that we are seeing so far, we know this will take considerable resources to help the people of Haiti recover.  It may be many weeks or even months to understand the full extent of the damage, and we expect the recovery will take years. 
  • This is not unprecedented for the Red Cross. Five years after Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross is still helping many communities restore what was lost.

Is the Red Cross helping to evacuate U.S. citizens from Haiti?

  • No. The Red Cross doesn’t have the expertise, equipment or resources to perform every disaster service such as evacuation coordination, transportation, or search and rescue.
  • The U.S. State Department is responsible for evacuating U.S. citizens from Haiti and the Red Cross coordinates with the State Department and other government agencies to support these citizens when they reach the United States.

Is the Red Cross helping U.S. citizens as they arrive from Haiti in the United States?

  • Yes. Some Red Cross chapters may be asked to support U.S. citizens as they arrive in the United States from Haiti. Services being provided at points of entry may vary slightly depending on the needs of those Americans as they arrive.
  • Depending on the circumstances Red Cross chapters may provide the following services: sheltering, feeding, emotional support, basic first aid, distribution of comfort kits and referrals to other community services.

How can I find a missing relative?

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross has established a family linking Web site, enabling persons in Haiti and abroad to search for and register the names of relatives missing since the earthquake:www.icrc.org/familylinks
  • If you’re trying to reach a U.S. citizen living or traveling in Haiti, you should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747.

Public Compassion

How much money has the American Red Cross raised for this relief operation?

  • More than half of all donations have come through online contributions, with strong support as well from corporations and the record-breaking generosity through mobile giving.

ADDITIONAL INFO: The American Red Cross has received more than $8 million as of 11 p.m. EST on Thursday through a mobile fundraising effort to support our relief efforts in Haiti.

  • This record-breaking generosity will help thousands of survivors cope with and recover from their losses.
  • The third-party mobile fundraising effort launched on January 12, approximately three hours after the earthquake struck Haiti.  The program is powered by Mobile Accord and the MGive Foundation in coordination with the U.S. State Department as part of its ongoing support of this disaster response.
  • Mobile donors can text “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross.
  • We are grateful for this mobile fundraising opportunity, and for the support of the State Department and other government leaders to draw attention to this important program.
  • Donors using this technology may opt in to receive future updates, but will not be solicited again without this consent nor will their personal information be shared with other organizations.

How much money has the American Red Cross spent on this relief effort?

  • It is too early to say how much this relief operation will cost the international community. The American Red Cross has already released $10 million for relief efforts in Haiti. That is only our initial commitment, and based on the growing amount of pledges, we will certainly add more. Future allocations will be made once we know more about the situation on the ground in Haiti and the greatest needs in both the short term and in the long term.
  • An average of 91 cents of every dollar the American Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs.

How can people donate?

  • People who want to help those affected by the Haitian earthquake can make a donation to the American Red Cross International Response Fund at redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS. Donors can designate their gifts to Haiti relief. 
  • The Red Cross is also receiving money through a third-party mobile fundraising effort in which mobile donors can text “Haiti” to 90999 to send a $10 donation to the Red Cross.  The funds will go to support the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

How far will my donation go?

  • Families who have lost everything in an international disaster need immediate help just to make it through the first terrifying hours and days. A cooking set, toilet paper and a toothbrush, safe water and a blanket to keep warm – these simple items are essential as families struggle to survive. For $100, you can give one family a basic kit that will provide a month’s supplies.

Example of the supply kit being sent to Haiti. Photo: Jeanette Ortiz/American Red Cross

How does this response compare to past disasters in terms of financial donations?

  • The response to the emergency in Haiti has been impressive and moving, and the donations to the American Red Cross have exceeded the totals amounts received in the first 48 hours of both Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

I heard rumors of fraudulent emails; is this true?

  • There are reports of fraudulent emails that are abusing the Red Cross emblem to solicit donations globally.
  • Please forward all suspicious emails and Web sites to fraudissues@ifrc.org.

Is the Red Cross accepting volunteers or goods for Haiti?

  • While we appreciate these heartfelt offers, we are not recruiting volunteers or accepting household items for Haiti relief.
  • We are only deploying Red Cross volunteers specially trained to manage international emergency operations.
  • Please consider supporting your community’s needs by volunteering with your local Red Cross; some chapters are in need of local volunteers to staff call centers and other activities in support of this response.  
  • At this time, what we need the most are financial contributions – whether by check, online or by phone. The Red Cross and other the organizations leading the efforts in Haiti most need financial gifts in order to best serve the victims. Things like clothes are not helpful right now because there is nowhere to store them, no one to sort them, and it would be difficult to transport the items to Haiti. One good way to turn clothes into cash is to have a garage sale and then donate the money to the relief efforts.
  • If you would like to offer supplies or to travel to Haiti, please visit Interaction.org for a list of organizations accepting this type of support.
  • Medical personnel can register at Center for International Disaster Information, an independent site that matches organizations with offers of goods and services.

Do you need blood donations?

  • The American Red Cross is meeting the needs of this tragedy through current supplies.
  • At this time we do not anticipate the need for a special donor appeal to support our efforts.
  • As always, blood donors are encouraged to call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit us online at redcrossblood.org to make an appointment.


Did the Red Cross have people in Haiti when the earthquake struck?

  • The American Red Cross has a 15-person office in Haiti focused year-round on HIV/AIDS education, malaria prevention, measles vaccinations and disaster preparedness.
  • The local Red Cross has been meeting humanitarian needs in Haiti since 1932 and specializes in providing first aid, disaster preparedness education and ambulance services.
  • We have had limited contact with our staff in Haiti, but do know that they are safe and responding to the survivors’ needs.

Why should someone donate to the Red Cross?

  • The Red Cross is the largest nonprofit organization with permanent presence in Haiti and plays an important coordination role among other humanitarian groups within the country.
  • Our more than 97 million volunteers worldwide – and hundreds of local responders from Haiti – give the Red Cross the expertise, scale and scope to manage catastrophic disasters from the moment they strike.

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