President Barack Obama said Saturday that America "stands united" with the Haitian people as he thanked two former presidents for agreeing to help raise billions to help rebuild the country after this week's devastating earthquake.
The State Department raised the U.S. death toll to 15, including one department employee, and said that 23 Americans were seriously injured and three U.S. government employees were missing.
Obama met in the Oval Office with former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to discuss the fundraising effort.
"By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world," Obama said in the Rose Garden, standing between Bush and Clinton. "In these difficult hours, America stands united. We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was en route to Haiti on Saturday for a firsthand look at the devastation, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since Tuesday's earthquake. Red Cross estimates are that 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed.
Hillary Clinton planned to confer with Haitian and other officials about how to speed the distribution of humanitarian aid and shape the recovery effort. The White House has said Obama had no immediate plans to visit Haiti.
Bush and Bill Clinton have created a Web site, http://www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, to begin collecting donations. Both men said Saturday that anyone who wants to donate should know that their money will be spent wisely.
Bush said the best way for people to help in Haiti is by sending money.
"I know a lot of people want to send blankets or water. Just send your cash," said Bush, who made his first visit to the Oval Office since leaving the White House in January 2009.
Clinton, who also is the United Nations' special envoy to Haiti, reminisced about being in Haitian hotels that collapsed during Tuesday's earthquake and eating meals with people who were killed in the disaster.
"It is still one of the most remarkable, unique places I have ever been," he said.
In Miami, Vice President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with Haitian-American leaders before their scheduled stop at an air base where relief supplies are being flown to Haiti. South Florida has the largest Haitian-American population in the U.S.
"This is personal," Biden said, touching the arm of White House political director Patrick Gaspard, who accompanied the vice president. Gaspard is Haitian-American and still has family in the Caribbean country.
U.S. officials said more food and water was on the way. There should be 600,000 humanitarian daily rations — basic nutrition packages that provide 2,300 calories — at Haiti's airport by Saturday evening, according to Tim Callaghan, the administration aide who's helping oversee relief efforts in Haiti.
Callaghan said water purification units arrived Friday night and that officials hope they will produce up to 300,000 liters of water. More water is coming from the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, the White House's designated coordinator of the U.S. relief effort who was accompanying Clinton, has said the main focus of U.S. efforts was on recovering trapped survivors.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the major obstacle was the inability to use the main port in Port-au-Prince, the capital, because of extensive damage. There also is only one airport.
About 4,200 U.S. military personnel were operating within Haiti or from Navy and Coast Guard vessels offshore, the U.S. Southern Command said. An additional 6,300 personnel are scheduled to arrive by Monday to help distribute aid and prevent potential rioting among desperate survivors.
After the Asian tsunami in 2004, Bush asked his father, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, to lead the effort to raise private donations. The elder Bush and Clinton also raised private money after Hurricane Katrina.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.