By Johnny Jackson
The American Red Cross is trying to galvanize support for relief efforts in the disaster-stricken nation of Haiti.
The agency, already suffering from low blood supplies following the holidays and an unusually cold start to the new year, is calling on area residents to donate blood, and money, to help others -- locally and abroad.
"We implore people living in the United States to please consider making donations to the Red Cross," said Ruben Brown, spokesman for the Red Cross Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter. "We will make sure the money gets to where it is needed most."
Organizations around the world are offering support to the small island nation, whose capital city of Port-au-Prince was devastated Tuesday by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
"Aid is critically important, because the infrastructure of Haiti has been decimated by the earthquake," Brown said. "The last time we did something like this was following the South Asia Tsunami [in 2004]. It was very similar in terms of breath and scope.
"The Haitian earthquake ranks near the top of disasters in terms of the number of people affected, the number of casualties, and the damage to the infrastructure," he continued. "For that reason, this will be a long-term recovery effort."
The reflief agency has already shipped some blood and blood products to the U.S. Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Fla., where it will be sent on to Guantanamo Bay to help Haitian evacuees and patients.
Though no specific request has been made for blood supplies by the Haitian government, the Red Cross hopes to be prepared to help meet whatever needs arise in the region, said April Phillips, spokeswoman for Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region.
Phillips said the Red Cross is pushing to recruit more blood donors to help replenish supplies exhausted during the holidays, which could not be rebuilt, due to cold-weather-related blood-drive cancellations.
She said the short supply of blood donations, typical during the winter holidays, was aggravated by the winter freeze.
"We never collect enough blood in the state of Georgia to meet our local needs," Phillips said. "We actually have to import red blood cells and platelets from other states, just to meet our local needs. Right now, the local supply of type O-negative and B-negative have dropped to emergency levels."
She encourages area residents to consider donating blood to create a heftier inventory, which can be used locally, or abroad, when the need arises, such as with the Haitian relief effort.
"It's the blood on the shelves today that helps save lives tomorrow," Phillips said. "The biggest way you can help that is to make a blood, or monetary, donation."
The Red Cross announced Thursday that it would release an additional $9 million for earthquake relief, bringing its total commitment, so far, to $10 million to support relief efforts in Haiti, according to spokesman, Ruben Brown.
Several hundred thousand people have chosen to make a mobile donation by texting "Haiti" to 90999 on their cell phones, which sends a $10 donation to support Red Cross efforts in Haiti. The mobile donations, Brown said, had raised more than $3 million by Thursday.
Brown said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is helping recovery efforts by sending medical supplies to Haiti from Geneva, Switzerland. ICRC staff members, including engineers, a surgeon and family-linking specialists are expected to arrive in Port-au-Prince this morning, Brown said.
Other Red Cross partners have deployed a mobile hospital, medical teams, and staffers to assist with providing shelter, water, sanitation, and telecommunications.
Brown said the ICRC is helping reconnect separated families in Haiti through its Family Links web site: www.icrc.org/familylinks. The site enables people in Haiti, and outside the country, to search for, and register, the names of relatives missing since the earthquake. Brown said more than 6,000 people were registered within the first 24 hours after the earthquake.
He advises people, with loved ones in Haiti, to be patient and continue to make repeated calls to their loved ones until the lines clear. He said those trying to locate U.S. citizens living, or traveling, in Haiti, should contact the U.S. Department of State's Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 1-888-407-4747, or (202) 647-5225.
Area residents interested in volunteering for the Red Cross should contact the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter at (404) 876-3302. To learn more, visit the Red Cross web site at, www.redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.