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Obama vows sustained support in Haiti

Photo by Alex Brandon

Photo by Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON -- Standing alongside two former presidents, President Barack Obama on Saturday promised that U.S. support for Haitian relief would continue long after the scenes of death and destruction fade from the headlines.

''In these difficult hours, America stands united,'' Obama said. ''We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such an incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild.''

Obama sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Caribbean country for the first look by a top U.S. official at the devastation. The White House has said Obama had no immediate plans to visit.

The State Department raised the U.S. death toll to 15, including one department employee. Twenty-three Americans were seriously injured in Tuesday's earthquake, and three U.S. government employees were missing.

The Red Cross has estimated that at least 45,000 people were killed.

Hillary Clinton arrived Saturday on a Coast Guard C-130 transport plane carrying bottled water, packaged food, soap and other supplies. She was to depart on another plane carrying about 50 U.S. citizens to Jamaica before her return to Washington.

In Haiti, Clinton met with President Rene Preval and got an update on relief efforts. She was accompanied by Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who is acting as the top U.S. relief coordinator.

Obama and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton met in the Oval Office for about half an hour to discuss the assignment he gave them: to lead private fundraising efforts for Haitian relief, including immediate needs and the long-term rebuilding effort.

Both men reassured people that money donated through their Web site, www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, would be well spent.

Bush said the best thing people can do is to send money.

''I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash,'' said Bush, who was visiting the White House for the first time since leaving office in January 2009.

Bill Clinton, who also is the United Nations special envoy to Haiti, spoke of his decades-long appreciation for the country. The Clintons honeymooned there, and a church they sat in 34 years ago is now ''a total rubble.'' He said he had been to hotels that collapsed and had dined with people who were killed. Clinton also helped restore democracy to Haiti during his presidency.

''I believed before this earthquake Haiti had the best chance in my lifetime to escape its history,'' Bill Clinton said, speaking of the country's history as one of the world's poorest. ''I still believe that ... but it's going to take a lot of help and a long time.''

In Miami, Vice President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with Haitian-American leaders before visiting an air base where relief supplies are being flown to Haiti. South Florida has the largest Haitian-American population in the U.S.