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THE SITUATION ROOM

Earthquake Devastates Haiti

Aired January 13, 2010 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BLITZER: Is there a scenario usually in place in the U.S. government -- all the career professionals, whether from AID or the Defense Department, the Coast Guard, the State Department, where they would mobilize within hours to deal with a situation like this?

Or does this simply come out of the blue?

TOWNSEND: No, it doesn't come out of the blue. And, in fact, it gets practiced even for international events. We saw the president name the head of USAID as the coordinator. But even he need some support. And that's why you saw Tom Donilon, the principal deputy national security adviser at the White House -- he works for General Jim Jones, the national security adviser -- call together the entire government, because you need assets from the Coast Guard, which is in the Department of Homeland Security, as well as assets in the Department of Defense.

And so you need somebody to sort of quarterback -- you know, the orchestra conductor, if you will, to make sure that the head of USAID is getting what he needs in a timely way and is able to deploy it.

And so they -- they're -- they're working on that now, but it -- it will be a challenge.

And the other challenge we haven't talked about, Wolf, is you need to also coordinate with the nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross. The Red Cross needs dollars. What we -- they need it from Americans who want to contribute and want to do something as money, so that they can make sure they get the assets that the Haitian people need there.

BLITZER: General Honore, you say these hours are critical right now, because there could be thousands of people still under rubble right now. They're alive, but unless they get removed very, very soon, it's going to be too late for the -- for these people. And by all accounts, General Honore, they don't have the equipment in Haiti to remove these big boulders -- the structures that may be on top of people right now.

So what is the -- what can the U.S. government, the U.S. military specifically, do about this?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, first of all, I would come off script and I would put the military in charge of this operation. We've got a four star general in Miami. That's his job. And have him work in collaboration with the State Department.

Right now, the DOD, the Department of Defense and Southern Command is waiting on the State Department to tell them what's needed. We need to change script here, put Southern Command in charge of this operation and get that admiral and that general on the ground within the next few hours and pull the command and control with him so he can help USAID, as well as work with the U.N. forces that are on the ground. We -- we need to get that general on the ground now.

And as we speak, the deputy for SOUTHCOM is in Port-au-Prince. He was there on a visit -- General Keane, Lieutenant General Keane -- when the event happened.

So we need to get some command and control in there, get that port open and get some C-5s and C-141s and C-17s flying in there tonight with as much food and medical supplies as we can.

BLITZER: All right...

HONORE: And that airport needs to be running around the clock. And somebody is going to have to take charge of the airport. The good Samaritans that went in today are doing great work. But one -- to get the throughput that's needed in that airport, it needs a military command and control to run that, as well as to get that port open, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, let's see if the White House listens to you, because right now, the president has designated the head of AID at the State Department to be his point person -- to be in charge of the overall U.S. rescue and relief operation.

But you just heard General Honore say he would like the U.S. military commander, the head of the Southern Command, a four star general normally based in Miami, to take charge and let the U.S. military get this situation resolved.

I'll -- I'll talk about it with Fran Townsend in -- in a little while.

But CNN, as you know, right now -- and you can rely on CNN -- is deploying its full resources to the disaster zone.

Anderson Cooper was among the first TV journalists to arrive in Haiti. And just a little while ago, he filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The situation (AUDIO GAP) in Port- au-Prince is stunningly -- and I'm right -- actually right outside what remains of the national cathedral. It's hard to tell, frankly, it was the national cathedral. So much of it is just completely destroyed. We're about a block away from the presidential palace, which as pretty much everyone knows by now, has been severely damaged.

But I've got to tell you, the -- the -- the human drama which is occurring here on every (AUDIO GAP). (END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Unfortunately, I think we just lost that signal, as well.

The -- And -- but Anderson Cooper will be joining us. He's on the ground, together with other reporters and producers, our camera crews. We're operating out of the Haiti right now, as only CNN can. And we can assure you we will get that information.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is on the ground, as well, with Anderson and others.

Listen to what Sanjay reported just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What are you doing here at the airport?

PRES. RENE PREVAL, HAITI: My palace collapsed.

GUPTA: So you don't have a home?

PREVAL: So I came here to work. But they tell -- they told me that I cannot work here because it's not safe. So I'm going home.

GUPTA: You're going to go back to your home?

Are you able to live in the palace or is it completely destroyed?

PREVAL: I cannot live in the palace. I cannot live in my own house because the two collapsed.

GUPTA: Where -- where are you going to go tonight?

PREVAL: I don't know.

GUPTA: It's striking. The president of this country doesn't know where he's going to sleep tonight.

PREVAL: No. I -- I -- I have plenty of time to look for a bed. But now I am working how to rescue the people. But sleeping is not a problem.

GUPTA: Well, what have you seen with your own eyes?

How -- how bad a situation is it?

PREVAL: It's incredible. You have to see it to believe it. A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes, a lot of people in the street dead.

GUPTA: You've seen this with your own eyes?

PREVAL: The earthquake took place yesterday at 5:00 and I'm -- I'm still...

(CROSSTALK)

PREVAL: ...looking for -- to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage it.

GUPTA: Well, what is the worst thing -- what is the worst thing that you saw so far?

PREVAL: People in the street for two days now. And we don't have the capacity to bring them to the hospital.

GUPTA: I'm so sorry to hear that, Mr. President.

What -- what -- what do you need?

What does Haiti need right now from the rest of the world?

PREVAL: For the earthquake, we have to first clean up the street. A lot of people they left their cars in the streets. They were afraid when the earthquake occurred. And there is a lot of garbage, a lot of cement in the street. So we have to clean up the street so the -- the -- the...

GUPTA: The rescue workers?

PREVAL: Yes, the rescue workers, they can work.

GUPTA: That's priority number one?

PREVAL: Yes. Number two.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have more of that interview that Sanjay conducted with the president of Haiti, Rene Preval. That's coming up.

Sanjay Gupta among our team on the ground now in Port-au-Prince.

Chris Lawrence is also in Port-au-Prince right now, our Pentagon correspondent.

You're at the International Airport in -- in Port-au-Prince -- Chris.

And I take it a lot of people, understandably so, would like to get out -- unfortunately, I think we just lost our connection with Chris Lawrence.

We'll reconnect with him.

Just be patient with us, because this is a difficult situation. Getting communications in and out of Haiti under these circumstances not easy. It's been 24 hours now since the earthquake in Haiti. We are there now on the ground and we're updating you on what we know. We're getting new information.

CNN's Ivan Watson is also among the team of CNN journalists who are there right now.

He's joining us on the phone -- Ivan, where are you right now and what are you seeing?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in Port-au-Prince. I'm at the entrance of a -- of an upscale hotel that has been turned into a makeshift hospital. I cannot stress enough how much the hospital facilities -- the medical facilities in this city have been overwhelmed by the vast number of victims of this earthquake.

I'm standing and there's probably about 100 Haitians laying around on the sidewalk here in the parking lot -- sitting, laying in the wicker furniture -- lawn furniture of this hotel. The owner of the hotel just told me that since the earthquake, they have treated hundreds of people and they're not really trained doctors. They just have some supplies. They have hotel sheets and they're trying to take care of people with broken legs. Lots of injuries here.

And at the end of this parking lot, again, with hundreds of people -- injured children here wailing around me -- are the bodies of at least four victims covered in sheets. Nobody has come to pick them up.

And, Wolf, I have seen this at two other clinics within a mile- and-a-half of here. Other clinics completely overwhelmed. Doctors telling me they don't have enough gas to keep the generators running to provide the medical machines to treat the victims. They have victims in the hallways, in the sidewalks, in front of the medical clinics. I've been seeing doctors treating people arriving being carried on wooden doors with broken limbs. This city has been devastated and there is simply not enough medical supplies or personnel to treat all of these people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a devastating situation.

In all your years as a journalist covering disasters around the world, Ivan, have you seen anything like this before?

WATSON: I have to confess, no, I have not. I mean I cov -- I did not cover the tsunami in the -- in Southeast Asia. And this is more that I've seen -- the bodies literally stacked up. Fourteen bodies I saw outside of one medical clinic. A woman sitting at the entrance of the clinic, she had a broken leg. She said she'd been waiting there since the previous night for treatment. The woman next to her, her foot had been ripped off somehow in the earthquake. She had been waiting from the previous day for some kind of medical treatment, laying next to the corpse of a baby covered in a sheet.

The conditions here are truly horrific. And, as you mentioned, it's only been 24 hours since this earthquake.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe.

All right, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

It's getting dark now in Haiti, as well. They're in the same time zone as the eastern part of the United States.

Ivan Watson is there.

We'll check back with Chris Lawrence, Anderson Cooper and our other reporters.

We're also standing by to speak live with a top official from President Obama's National Security Council, Denis McDonough. He's the chief of staff there. He's going to be joining us. We'll talk with Denis McDonough over at the White House and see what the president is up to, what other U.S. officials are up to, as well.

Also, we're speaking with the family members of victims of those who have suffered as a result of this earthquake.

Our coverage will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The extent of this tragedy is breathtaking. Much of Haiti's capital lies in ruins. We're continuing our breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We heard earlier from the prime minister of Haiti, suggesting perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are dead. The Haitian ambassador here in the United States told me just a little while ago, he fears more than 100,000 are either dead or missing.

Let's get a closer look right now at this disaster zone.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with more on this.

This story is a story that's heartbreaking -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: oh, sure, Wolf. And exactly what you're hearing today is what we've been hearing all day long. There still remains, as is often the case in earthquakes, a tremendous lack of information and a lot of confusion. And, as all this help pours in from around this world on this island to help out Haiti down here, people are trying to gauge the size of the response and how they're going to be able to help. And part of that depends on the number of casualties and fatalities.

So I want to move in here and show you something. The USGS, the U.S. Geological Survey, has been doing some absolutely brilliant work on all of this. They've expanded their mission over the years to do some wonderful things.

I want you to look at the epicenter here, Port-au-Prince over here. And I want you to look at this map, which we've been looking at today. This is population density, meaning how tightly packed are people here. The taller the column, the more people in the area. So you see our target zone right down here. And you see, there's Port- au-Prince. And, boy, is this a tremendous number of people compared to everywhere else around this target zone right here.

So the big concern, first, is that it hit right next to this area. And that allows us to come up with a formula as to how many people probably were affected, even though they can't get down the roads, even though communications is a mess.

So if we move in a little bit closer here, again, and I turn on a different map here, you can take a look at what we call the shake map. The shake map will show you the -- sort of the intensity of those areas. So the main hit was here. But you see that much of the shaking has now occurred out this way, not this way. The red area is what we're talking about. Most of it's been this way.

If I turn that one off and turn on the actual incidence of tremors -- the tremors since the original one, you can see, the original one hit over here. Since then, most of them have been smaller and they've been spread this way. And look at this little red one right here. That red one means that it happened within the past hour. So they're still getting hit, but it's away from the prime area. All of that is good.

That said, here's what you really have to look at. If we move into Port-au-Prince proper, you start applying the math of that population density against the intensity of the hit and this is what we know right away, that three million, a third of the country, was subjected to pretty strong shaking.

And I wrote the words "weight of roof" here. The weight of the roof matters because if you move into these areas, when you're in earthquakes, you have to think about the idea that the heavier the roof is -- whether it's a one story, a two story or a three story building -- the greater the chance that it will collapse down and kill the people inside. That's one of the real threats out here.

In some ways, people who live in less strong buildings might be somewhat better off in that way. The building may collapse, but there may be less weight on top.

In the end, these are the kind of numbers that we're probably looking at scientifically, not just guessing, probably one to 10,000 people fatalities. There's a very good chance of that. And as terrible as that is, that would be a good outcome. Ten thousand to 100,000 is considered by the people who are analyzing these numbers very reasonable. And, of course, Wolf, it could go above.

We'll keep assembling the situational map, giving people situational awareness of everything going on there all evening long. And we hope people will stay with us.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, stand by.

I want to go to the White House right now.

Denis McDonough is joining us.

He's the chief of staff over at the National Security Council.

I take it you've just been meeting with the president and others, Denis.

Thanks very much.

How long will it take for major quantities of U.S. relief and rescue operation and supplies to start getting into Haiti?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks a lot for the opportunity to join you, Wolf.

We're -- obviously, as you've heard throughout the day, starting with the president this morning and from, really, last night, trying to dedicate all the resources of the government to move assistance capability down into Haiti. We have more and more of that capability getting on the ground even now, as we speak. And, obviously, as your former guest underscored, we're getting new information as the -- the more we see here. And that's going to really determine the amount of assistance we get.

But, look, the bottom line is this. We have experienced professionals. We're drawing on all of them, from USAID to the Department of State to the Department of Defense and, obviously, relying on the private volunteers down throughout Haiti, religious groups and others who have been helping Haitians over the course of many, many decades.

So we feel like we're getting into a position to really affect the outcome here and to send a real clear signal to the Haitians and to the American citizens, many of them, still there, that we are ready to help.

BLITZER: Well, are you telling me that some aircraft -- U.S. aircraft have already arrived -- have landed in Haiti with supplies and rescue operations?

MCDONOUGH: I'm telling you, Wolf, that we've been able to get some capability on the ground to -- to ensure that the landing strip itself is going to be able to withstand the amount of pressure that we're going to put on it over the course of the next several days. We've been able now to get some search and rescue professionals actually on the ground and to begin to move out from the airport to get some of this done. And, obviously, we've been doing a lot of MediVacing throughout the course of today so that U.S. government personnel and other American citizens who have suffered grave injuries as a result of the earthquake are now getting much better health care, much better attention than they otherwise might have been.

I don't know about you, but I'm very proud of our military personnel who have done this -- Coast Guard personnel who've gone in there and gotten our fellow citizens out to get some care. And we're awful proud of that. But we've got a lot -- a lot yet to do.

BLITZER: I'm very proud of the military all the time.

Denis, General Russel Honore, retired U.S. Army, who was very much involved in helping people -- he was sent into Katrina in New Orleans and Louisiana, as you probably remember. He just told us he thinks it's a mistake for someone from AID -- the head of AID, the administrator, to be in charge of coordinating this U.S. relief and rescue operation. He says a four star U.S. general, the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, who's based in Miami, he should be in charge.

What do you think about that idea?

MCDONOUGH: Well, in fact, South -- Southern Command, which has purview over Haiti and all the countries of this hemisphere, has been very closely involved. You saw General Fraser, who is the four star in charge of Southern Command, working very closely with Raj Shah, the USAID administrator. They gave a joint press conference together today with Cheryl Mills over at the State Department. And, frankly, they have been working together hand in glove since last night.

So I'm not really exa -- I didn't have the benefit of hearing the interview that you had on your show, Wolf.

But what I do have the benefit of having seen is all the efforts that have gone into last night and today to get the folks down on the ground, get supplies positioned. And I feel pretty good about it.

But, look, we've got a lot of work to do and we're going to continue to demand more.

You mentioned a minute ago that I just came from meeting with the president. Let me tell you, having met with the him, Wolf, I have a very keen understanding of just how demanding he is of this effort. And we're going to try to meet his demands on it.

BLITZER: I'm sure he's put the word out to everyone involved -- do whatever is necessary to save the lives of people in Haiti right now.

Very quickly before I let you go, you've heard the prime minister say he fears hundreds of thousands of people may be dead. You've heard the ambassador tell me just a little while ago he thinks more than 100,000 are either dead or missing.

What is the U.S. government's estimate right now about the dead in Haiti?

MCDONOUGH: We're not putting out any numbers on it, Wolf. I just came from the president having a conversation with President Lula of Brazil, President Bachelet of Chile. Obviously, both of those countries have noted that they have suffered pretty significant losses over the course of the last day.

But we haven't put a number on it. But we do know, as we've said throughout the day today, that it is significant. We're going to generate the resources to address the situation. And we're going to -- obviously, as I suggested a minute ago, we're getting smarter the more we see across the country. And I think we're going to be ready to -- to make a big impact.

BLITZER: And we're also hearing from P.J. Crowley, the spokesman over at the State Department -- and, Denis, I -- I hope you can elaborate. What -- what he's saying is that U.S. citizens who are in Port-au-Prince or elsewhere in Haiti right now should go to the airport if they want to be evacuated. The U.S. is getting ready to send in planes.

Is that what -- what -- what you want U.S. citizens who may be watching us right now in Haiti, if, in fact, they have that capability, if -- do you want them to go to the airport?

MCDONOUGH: Wolf, as I indicated earlier today, our -- we have gone in and MediVa -- MediVaced out some severely wounded U.S. government personnel and some private American citizens. And we are now getting additional planes on the ground to be able to move out U.S. government personnel and private American citizens. And so, obviously, there's information about all this through American citizen services at the State Department. And there is increasing direction and resources for precisely that purpose.

So we are going to continue to work this. The president made clear this morning his number one priority is the safety and security of our American citizens down there. And we're following through on that.

BLITZER: Denis McDonough is the chief of staff at the National Security Council.

Denis, good luck to you.

Good luck to all the men and women of the U.S. government, all the private organizations who are trying to do whatever they can to help save lives in Haiti right now.

Thank you very much.

MCDONOUGH: Thank you, Wolf.

I really appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

And tell the president we're watching this story very closely.

CNN is devoting an enormous amount of energy right now. It's only 24 hours since the earthquake erupted, but we have a full team of journalists on the ground right now.

We're going to be checking in with Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Susan Candiotti, Chris Lawrence, Gary Tuchman -- all of our reporters who are there.

We're also getting stories from Haitians about their search for loved ones.

And we'll continue our breaking news coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Haiti earthquake -- it's now 24 hours since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, a country of nearly 10 million people, two million in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

One American who's in Port-au-Prince right now is Ansel Herz.

He's joining us via Skype.

Ansel, you've been there, what, for four months. Walk us through what happened yesterday, when you first felt that earthquake and what has it been like over these past 24 hours?

ANSEL HERZ, U.S. CITIZEN LIVING IN HAITI: Yes, at about 4:45 yesterday, I was in my house that -- that I share with Haitians in a -- a relatively poor neighborhood called Jacques, which is just below the -- the wealthy suburb of -- of Petionville and basically began to feel tremors. Things started falling off the walls. And we -- we were worried that the house was going to collapse -- collapse.

Thankfully, it didn't. It's one of the few multistory buildings in -- in our area that did not collapse entirely.

Immediately, I went into the street and began shooting footage and -- and talking to people. Basically, many of the -- the larger structures -- the houses that had more than one story in that area had collapsed entirely. I saw -- I saw a man -- basically his body was crushed and he was dead. People were wailing in the streets. We felt aftershocks after that.

And so then, over the past 24 hours, I've been in the street and also I -- I made my way downtown, just surveying the damage and talking to people. Essentially, many, many buildings are -- are collapsed entirely, including the national palace of Haiti, where the prime minister stays; including many of the -- the -- the parliament and ministry buildings, as well.

Also, the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeepers here in Haiti, the -- the -- their office building just collapsed entirely. And so a lot of their administrative personnel, I think, have -- have died.

They were just beginning the rescue effort last night around, I think, 10:00 p.m., after darkness had fallen. They were just starting to try to pull people out from the rubble.

You know, in the streets, a large -- people are -- are -- are trying to stay away from walls and buildings and their homes. Basically everybody is -- is outside, trying to -- trying to stay safe and not -- and not be crushed by falling debris.

And I also witnessed many acts of -- of solidarity among Haitians who are, basically in the absence of any official relief effort from the government or from aid agencies, they're -- they're just trying to help each other with their hands and with shovels and pick axes. You know, I -- I saw the national cathedral, for example, had -- part of it had fallen and collapsed. And there were about a dozen men just trying to pull a woman out from -- from a squished wall. So I think all of that is ongoing here in Port-au-Prince.

BLITZER: I know, Ansel, you recently graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, you studied journalism. I take it I've been in Haiti now for four months. Is that correct?

ANSEL: Yes, I got here at the end of September.

BLITZER: When you see what's happened over the past 24 hours, you hear these statements by the prime minister of Haiti, he fears more than 100,000 people may have died in this aftermath of this earthquake, based on the neighborhoods you've walked through today, does that seem realistic? We're all praying that number is way too high.

ANSEL: It's hard to say. I heard the number 100,000 thrown out earlier. I think that would be a minimum. I don't know how many multiple hundreds of thousands of people who have died. That's actually the first time I've heard that the prime minister had said that, because in the streets I hadn't heard anything really from government or officials. There's really nobody out there coordinating, at least when I was out in the streets, downtown, and Cite Soleil and different areas of Port-au-Prince, there's nobody out there telling the people you know what the officials' assessment is of the damage. So I really can't say precisely, you know, how many people have died but certainly it's a catastrophe.

BLITZER: Ansel hold on for a moment. I'm going to keep you on Skype but Chris Lawrence, our correspondent, is over at the airport right now.

Chris, you have a guest who's got some new information. Tell our viewers what's going on.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes exactly Wolf. We're here at the airport. The sun is just about setting now, not much daylight left. I'm here with Mario Anderson. He's the chief the police for the country of Haiti. Can you please tell all our viewers, all the people who are watching perhaps around the world, what is the security situation right now in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti?

MARIO ANDERSON, CHIEF OF POLICE IN HAITI: It's very bad. The men's prison has been broken last night, and we have a million prisoners who escaped from the prison, and security is difficult for the police to be in control of the situation. Beside that, you have the global situation with people living any streets, you see what I mean? And I think we need help here.

LAWRENCE: You're saying the prison, the penitentiary, suffered damage in the earthquake. Roughly how many prisoners do you think are still out there? ANDERSON: Maybe a thousand, a thousand around, because we are -- all the bad guys last few years, but today they are out, and I think we'll have to do it again.

LAWRENCE: OK. That is an incredible situation to hear you say that on the air, to say the penitentiary was damaged to the point. What about also the problem with bandits, with people who would prey on others in a situation like this?

ANDERSON: We start receiving reports from the population that bad guys, they are around, and they start, you know attacking their business, you know, by night. So now we are counting our injuries, you know -- and there's 200 officers down there. Also, the men -- the palace and the parliament, and --

LAWRENCE: What is the danger right now for all of these families that we see here and the families that I saw driving around Port-au- Prince, who have no home to go to, they don't have anywhere else to do but be out here on the street. What do you suggest they do tonight?

ANDERSON: Tonight, you know, it's going to become worse. You know, tonight -- and some of them, and call other people --

BLITZER: All right. We just lot that communication with Chris Lawrence, speaking with that chief of police there at the airport. It's a worrisome situation, as nightfall begins to come upon Haiti right now. We have a lot more coverage coming up. We're not leaving this story, a story that is so demanding, but our team is on the ground right now, and we'll bring you all of it. Stand by, our continuing coverage will resume after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Go right back to Port-au-Prince, Susan Candiotti is on the ground for us.

Susan, I take it you've just felt some aftershocks?

Unfortunately I think we've lost our connection with Susan Candiotti. We'll reconnect with her. We've got our whole team of reporters now on the ground. We're going to be talking with Anderson Cooper momentarily, Susan Candiotti, as I just said, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chris Lawrence, Gary Tuchman, Ivan Watson, Jonathan Mann. We're watching all of this unfold. Fran Townsend is here, the homeland security contributor who knows a lot about these situations. She worked in the Bush white house. Brian Todd is here as well.

Brian, the stories that are coming out are pretty heart wrenching.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are Wolf and a lot have to do with American citizens on the ground in Haiti right now, 45,000 estimated by the State Department to be on the ground there. No specification breakdown of exactly what all of those people were doing there, where they work. Some of them are with aid organizations, with charities on the ground. Many could have dual U.S./Haitian citizenship, so they're counted among the Americans. Now the U.S. embassy has a couple hundred people there, less than 200. Right now no confirmed deaths of Americans, but some, including at least eight people with the U.S. embassy, were injured. We're getting reports from all over the U.S., people who are desperately looking to hear word about their loved ones.

But an amazing story already for one American family. Jillian Thorpe is with a Catholic commission in Haiti. She was trapped underneath a three-story house that collapsed. From the rubble she made a Skype call to her husband. We had a guy on Skype just a moment ago. You can see those transmissions. She was able to make a call on Skype to her husband, Frank Thorpe, who was in another part of Haiti, about eight hours away. He drove through the night to get to her. Other workers at that mission in the meantime started to dig through the rubble on their own. Jillian Thorpe's father picks it up from there.

CLAY COOK: By the time Frank got there, which was probably close to 3:00 in the morning, they had started to see a bit of Jill. They couldn't see her face, they could see one hand waving, and they were able to talk. With a little more digging Frank actually lifted her out of wreckage.

TODD: Clay Cook says his daughter is okay, she's not seriously injured, but an official with Jillian Thorpe's mission says a local employee believed to be a cook for that mission had both of her legs crushed. We're going to hear these stories throughout the coming days, as experts say the first 24 to 48 hours are crucial for pulling people out of the rubble here. Unfortunately we're halfway through that window. So these hours are critical right now.

BLITZER: You say a lot of the Americans are dual citizens, Americans and Haitians, but a lot of these Americans are down there work for relief organizations.

TODD: That's right; we're getting reports of a lot of these organizations continuing to work while they're still looking for people. They're trying to get word out to loved ones who are looking for word of what's going on with them down there. Communication, as we all know now, is very, very spotty, and just word of what these relief organizations are doing right now, they've got a dual mission, they've got to help people on the ground, they've got to try to find their own people and account for them, and they're not able to quite do that, all in one spot.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, you've coordinated these kinds of situations. The U.S. government, other governments can do a lot. These private organizations like the Red Cross or Save the Children they can do a lot as well.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right and the government, you know, we realized in the wake of Katrina, the government can't expect it's going to do the whole job. What it can do is help coordinate between those private organizations. So it's critically important that those private organizations have the resources they need. The government can help them with communications gear, they can help them with logistics, they can help them get supplies in, but what those private organizations, need, Wolf, is cash. They need to be able to purchase the appropriate resources and move them. That's where the coordination with the government agencies comes in. That's critically important to get the sort of medical assistance, food and water that you heard General Honore talk about earlier. They're the angels on the ground that actually can put this in the hands of the people who desperately need it right now.

BLITZER: And just very quickly, if it were you, would you put a four star general in charge from the southern command in charge of coordinating this operation or the head of AID?

TOWNSEND: Wolf I think the distinction really is who coordinates the logistics on the ground. I think General Honore is right. On the ground that's going to be a four-star general that has the command and control, the communications, the ability to move logistics through that airport, and who's responsible here in Washington? That does make sense to have a USAID person. What you need is then, Denis McDonough used the phrase "working hand and glove" that's the critical piece, the coordination between them.

BLITZER: They've got to work together and I'm sure they are. Stand by, guys.

Joining us on the phone from Florida is Jimmy Joseph. He is desperately seeking information on five relatives missing in Haiti. Mr. Joseph, what have you heard from your family in Haiti?

JIMMY JOSEPH, RELATIVES MISSING IN HAITI: So far nothing. I've got trying to call since last night around five o'clock. I've called all the numbers, and nobody ever answered. So I'm really worried. And I don't know what else to do.

BLITZER: Your family I take it lives in Port-au-Prince. Is that right?

JOSEPH: That's right. It's about 15, 20 minutes away from the airport.

BLITZER: From the airport. Now just because you can't establish phone connections with them it doesn't necessarily mean all is lost because phone connections are very, very hard. Have you established phone connections with others?

JOSEPH: No. I tried all. I've tried to call everybody else. Nobody ever answered. I called my friend, a friend that I have around here to try to call their family members. Nobody ever answered. So I'm not sure if they're alive. I'm praying they're all alive, but I'm really worried.

BLITZER: Are you talking about your parents, your brother and sister? Who specifically are you looking for?

JOSEPH: I'm looking for my sister and her husband and four of her kids. BLITZER: So there's six individuals. You have some pictures that you have made available to us. I want to show our viewers to some of the pictures. I don't know if you can see our screen right now. We're seeing a young kid. Who is this?

JOSEPH: I'm not currently in front of TV so I'm not sure which one that you've explained. My sister's name is Yolin, and her father's name is Foster. Her daughter Stephanie is right now in the Dominican Republic. She went to medical school in the Dominican Republic. I have her cousin, my brother-in-law, a niece. Also my nephew Steve and also my other nephew Sebastian and Christy, so I don't know the whereabouts right now and I don't know. I'm really worried if they're OK or not.

BLITZER: We're worried, too. There's your sister Michaela. We'll be praying together with you Jimmy Joseph. There's hundreds of thousands of Haitian-Americans who are in the same situation right now. They're trying to establish contact with loved ones in Haiti. We're doing whatever we can to help but this was obviously a very, very complicated situation, communications with Haiti very, very difficult right now. The breaking news will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll head back to the international airport in Port- au-Prince in Haiti. Chris Lawrence is our Pentagon correspondent, but he's there on the scene for us.

You're getting new information about efforts to help Americans. There's still about 40,000 or so Americans who are in Haiti right now. What are you picking up, Chris?

LAWRENCE: This information is going to be tremendously useful, not only to the American citizens who are here in Haiti trying to get home, but also their families back in the United States and perhaps around the world, who are watching and wanting to know if any help is on the way. We just learned from the embassy there were be two flights tomorrow, one at 9:00 a.m. and another at noon that will fly American citizens from here back to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. From there we're told they will be met by embassy personnel who will assist them in trying to get either hotel reservations if they need to stay a night or two there in Santo Domingo, or to coordinate changing their original flights into a flight that would get them back home to the United States.

We're told that the process by which they'll work they'll come to the airport; they'll have to sign a promissory note basically promising to pay for the cost of the flight. That will get them to Santo Domingo. If they then need another flight to get home to the United States, they will sign another promissory note. When this information came out just a couple seconds ago, tremendous sigh of approval went up, but there's a big caveat. We're told that there is 100 seats, about 100 seats on each of these flights. That's about 200 seats. Just from walking around here, I estimate there are a lot more than 200 United States citizens who would like to get back to America as soon as possible, Wolf.

BLITZER: You can't blame them. I'm sure more planes will be on the way. This is just the start. It's getting dark where you are right now. Give us a little sense of the mood among the folks who have come to the airport hoping to get out of Haiti.

LAWRENCE: Well, it is definitely taking on a more worry tone, I guess in the last half an hour to hour, and not only because of the darkness, but there are big storm clouds, and we have started to see a few sprinkles of rain, and I think I told you earlier that a lot of people are out here on the street. They don't have blankets or any place to get cover and one gentleman from Florida told us that it was pretty darn cold out here last night. He slept out here all last night with the family, but some good news. You can see behind me that some of the lights have come on at least part of the airport here. There is a-of the airport that is still completely dark. But some of the lights have just come on now for about the first time since we have been here. That is a good sign, and what we have heard from the embassy, about two flights leaving tomorrow, and again one at 9:00 a.m. And one at noon starting to take the first American citizens back home to the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good news for the Americans, and there are so many Haitian-Americans right now in the United States who are so worried about their loved ones we will speak with some of them right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You can only imagine what a terrible time it is for the Haitians living in the United States seeing the devastation with little they can do about it. CNN's Mary Snow is in Brooklyn now and she has been talking to Haitian-Americans living there.

And Mary, what are they saying?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are thousands and thousands of Haitian immigrants in this community, and just about everywhere you turn, you will meet someone desperate for information. Many people want to help, but at this point, they say they just don't know what to do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: At an office that usually handles immigration issues for Haitians the phones rang constantly with people asking for information, any information about their families in Haiti. When Haiti's prime minister initially told CNN that there may be hundreds of thousands of deaths, it was more than Andree Lafleur could take. She cannot reach her mother and two sisters and five brothers who live outside Port-au-Prince, and she is praying as she watches images of the devastation.

ANDREE LAFLEUR, HAITIAN-AMERICAN: I hope that if my family is watching the TV in Haiti, and trying to call us, and let us know what is going on, because we are so worried, because we don't have the news, nothing.

SNOW: Her coworker Rachel Pierre keeps monitoring her Facebook page where she is monitoring the wreckage. She can't count how many times she has tried to call her parents and brothers and sisters in Haiti since Tuesday night, and she doesn't know what to do next.

RACHEL PIERRE, HAITIAN-AMERICAN: I don't know. I just don't know. Shock. I'm shocked.

SNOW: While the women wait on word, a man walked in to volunteer to go to Haiti to help.

YVES ST. JUSTE, HAITIAN-AMERICAN: If you want me to go right now, I am going.

SNOW: Not far from the Brooklyn neighborhood, this is a radio hub which is simulcasting a radio station from Haiti when they can. Ricot Dupuy is the station manager.

RICOT DUPUY, RADIO SOLEIL O'HAITI: Haiti is not made to withstand no hurricane, or earthquake even a 1.0 on the Richter scale, but a 7.0 on the Richter scale, this is unthinkable, unimaginable, and when this is over, it will be something that nobody can imagine.

SNOW: This catholic priest from Haiti says that now part of his job for the community is to stay strong.

REV. DONELSON THEVENIN, HOLY NAME CHURCH: Usually when a disaster happens and you are not down there on the ground to know exactly what is happening, the fear is the worst. Your fear will be the worst happen until you get the word that it is okay, then you can calm yourself down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Wolf, they have been flooded with the calls at the radio station with nowhere else to turn. They are hoping that reporting missing ones, that I will be reconnected with missing loved ones. We were just in there and it is becoming overwhelming for people answering the phones. Wolf?

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking situation that the Haitians are in right now. They are so desperate to get word from the loved ones in Haiti, but it is almost impossible to do so. We will watch this very, very closely. I want to go back to Ansel who is the recent graduate from the University of Texas who is in Port-au-Prince who is joining us via Skype.

Ansel, it is getting dark there in Port-au-Prince, and you have been living there watching what is has been going on, and you have had a chance to walk around, but are you worried right now about your own personal safety?

ANSEL: To be honest, I'm really not. For one thing, I'm right across from the U.S. embassy, so I could go over there and spend the night if I need to. But I have lived with Haitians and we have moved to a relative's house, because the house we were in is a little bit shaky.

I wanted to respond to something that was said earlier by the chief of police talking about the bandits escaping from the national penitentiary. I was there this morning actually, and I could describe the scene a little bit for you. Basically, the roof of the penitentiary seemed to have just disappeared. It collapsed in on itself, and people could freely walk in and out of the prison. There were no officials, no police there of any kind, and I went inside of the prison and actually it looked like there had been a fire, and it was entirely empty. So that the prisoners have either all escaped or and this is unconfirmed rumor, but I did hear of some people saying that the police had shot some of the prisoners as they were trying to escape last night shortly after the earthquake.

Just in terms of my safety, you know, I was warned a few times last night about potentially going into dangerous areas, but I did go into downtown after dark and I saw no violence of any kind and I stuck with different people who offered to help me. I think that Haiti has a reputation for being a violent place, when in reality, it actually has some of the lowest crime rates in the region in the Caribbean. So, I hope that people just aren't too alarmed by the situation. I think that a lot of the Haitians are dealing with this in an entirely peaceful way. Again, myself, I have not witnessed any violence.

BLITZER: Ansel, standby.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty is over at the state department getting some important new information, some clarification from the officials at the state department.

What are you learning, Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is very important. The state department just about an hour ago said that if Americans, that the embassy was sending a message to Americans that if they wanted to be evacuated from Haiti, they should go to the airport. That is not correct. There is a clarification. And this is coming from deputy press secretary Gordon Duguid, and he is saying that the American embassy is working on evacuation plans for Americans, and that the airport is being evaluated as a possible evacuation route, but right now they are encouraging Americans to seek shelter, avoid damaged structures, obey instructions from the local authorities and stay in a safe place until further notice, and the priority in all of this will be injured Americans. So, again, the airport is being evaluated as an evacuation point but at this point Americans should stay in a safe place until further notice. Wolf?