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Clinton to cut short Asia trip after Haitian quake
HONOLULU (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said she would look to shorten a trip through the Western Pacific after a "horrific" earthquake in Haiti spurred a major U.S. assistance drive.
Clinton said she would continue with plans to visit Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand but would likely compress the schedule to return to Washington as soon as possible.
Clinton, who spent the morning in Honolulu on the telephone with U.S. President Barack Obama, new U.S. development chief Rajiv Shah and other senior officials, said U.S. forces were scrambling to provide basic help such as getting air traffic control working.
"We do not have the kind of information yet that gives us a road map as to how we're going to be able to respond effectively, although we are moving a lot of our assets to position them to be in a position to do so," she told reporters.
Clinton said one key mission was to get Haiti's air traffic control system operational so that the major influx of aid and assistance can take place.
"There were some near misses this morning with some journalists and others trying to get into Haiti," Clinton said.
She said U.S. officials had evacuated four injured U.S. citizens and were seeking more information on the some 45,000 U.S. citizens in the impoverished island nation -- a task complicated by downed communications and other problems.
"Our ambassador has been trapped in his own home. The charge has done a very good job communicating because we could get through to him," Clinton said, adding that the ambassador had spoken to Haitian President Rene Preval, who had survived but was unable to communicate with his cabinet.
Clinton said the U.S. relief effort would coordinate closely with that mounted by the United Nations -- her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, is the U.N. special envoy for Haiti -- and that she was personally floored by the Haitian disaster.
"It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people," she said, adding that the outlook for Haiti had been slowly stabilizing before the quake.
"We had private business beginning to make investments ... There was so much hope about Haiti's future. Hope that had not been present for years. And along comes Mother Nature and just flattens them," Clinton said.
Clinton is due to leave Hawaii later in the day to make a brief stop in Papua New Guinea, before going on to New Zealand and Australia.
She did not indicate which portions of the trip might be trimmed to speed up the schedule, but said a meeting with Australia's defense and foreign ministers on Monday was still on the schedule.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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