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Florida ready to aid earthquake victims
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As the death toll rises in the aftermath of a series of earthquakes that hit the small island of Haiti Tuesday afternoon, the state of Florida is preparing to respond.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee activated at 9 a.m. Wednesday to a Level 2 or Partial Activation.

State emergency management officials are working with state, federal and international disaster officials to assist with response and recovery efforts for the island nation as needed, according to a press release. Operations, logistics, plans and human services teams are prepared to assist with any mission requests.

Interim Director David Halstead briefed Gov. Charlie Crist and state officials are currently cataloging resources that can be made available to the island nation.

“As one of Haiti’s closest neighbors, Florida stands ready to offer assistance to those affected by today’s devastating earthquake,” Crist said. “The Division of Emergency Management has notified the United States Department of State that we are ready to assist in every way possible. I have discussed with State Representatives Yolly Roberson, Ronald Brise and Mack Bernard ways we can support Florida families with loved ones in Haiti. Our hearts and prayers go out to them all.”

Wednesday morning the Associated Press was reporting that thousands were dead or trapped in the rubble, although it was still too early for any official count.

The American Red Cross pledged an initial $1 million to assist communities impacted by today’s earthquake in Haiti, and is prepared to take further action as local responders assess the situation, according to a press release.

“Initial reports indicate widespread damage in Port au Prince, with continuing aftershocks,” said Tracy Reines, director of international disaster response for the American Red Cross. “As with most earthquakes, we expect to see immediate needs for food, water, temporary shelter, medical services and emotional support.”

The American Red Cross has made available all of the relief supplies from its warehouse in Panama which would provide for basic needs for approximately 5,000 families. In addition, it is deploying a disaster management specialist to Haiti, and has additional disaster specialists on standby if needed.

Judy Pontiff, American Red Cross community relations branch manager in Pasco County, said the Red Cross already had people on the ground in Haiti setting up tents and other facilities. She said because many of the hospitals and Doctors Without Borders clinics had been destroyed, workers were setting up MASH-like facilities to try to help the injured.

She said water was a critical need.

“We’re trying to support the people anyway we can,” she said. “We need to take care of the living and the dead. Haiti is one of the poorest nations and what little they have is now destroyed.”

How to help

The best thing people can do to help is to make monetary contributions, Pontiff said. While donations of goods is a great sentiment, it’s less expensive for the Red Cross to use money donations to purchase goods closer to where they are needed to save time and shipping costs. Sorting donations of goods takes time and some donations, such as aspirins, cannot be accepted.

Starting Wednesday afternoon, officials are placing drop off boxes at Red Cross locations throughout Tampa Bay. The clothes, shoe, hat and purse drive will be administered by a third party who will pay the Red Cross for the donations. The money then can be used to assist people in Haiti and anywhere else that disaster strikes, Pontiff said.

Things were busy at the Clearwater branch of the Red Cross Wednesday morning with people calling to give money and make inquiries on how to help.

How to donate to the American Red Cross

Residents can make a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need.

The American Red Cross honors donor intent.

Donations can be sent to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013, or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at

You can also donate by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts.  The donation is an automatic $10 donation and will show up on your cell phone bill.

For information about the Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross, which serves Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, visit
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