PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - First lady Michelle Obama told Haitians on Tuesday that her country and the world would help them rebuild from the catastrophic January 12 earthquake in the poor Caribbean nation.
Making an unannounced visit to Haiti at the start of her first solo international trip as first lady, Obama described her drive through a crowded quake survivors’ camp, and her meeting with child victims as “deeply moving”.
Accompanied by Jill Biden, the wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, she earlier flew over the wrecked Haitian capital Port-au-Prince in a U.S. Army helicopter and said she was struck by the “powerful” scenes of devastation.
The 46-year-old wife of President Barack Obama arrived in Mexico City for a two-day visit on Tuesday evening. She was met by Mexican diplomats and a contingent of flag-waving Girl Guides and young Red Cross volunteers.
Earlier, at a United Nations base in Port-au-Prince, she met U.S. and international relief workers, praising them for their aid efforts, and addressed Haitian civil society groups.
She passed on a message of support from her husband, who, immediately after the quake struck Haiti, sent thousands of soldiers and aid workers to spearhead a huge international relief effort.
“Little by little, Haiti will move forward, little by little, Haiti will rebuild,” Michelle Obama said.
“We have hope because the United States stands with Haiti, and we have hope because the world stands with Haiti,” she said, after calling for a minute’s silence for those killed in the quake. Haiti’s government says the final death toll from the disaster could number more than 300,000.
Earlier, at the presidential palace, which partly collapsed in the quake, the U.S. first lady and Mrs. Biden met Haitian President Rene Preval and his wife, Elisabeth.
They also visited a center for child quake victims, where children welcomed them with a song. The first lady danced with the children, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her hips as they sang. She joined them in painting at the children’s request.
The January 12 Haitian earthquake has been described by some experts as the deadliest natural disaster in modern history and it devastated a fragile country that was already the poorest and least developed in the Western Hemisphere.
Although most Haitians have praised the U.S. assistance, many have asked why Obama, the first black president of the United States, has not been among the world leaders who have visited Haiti, the world’s first independent black republic.
Michelle Obama’s visit may go some way toward assuaging such feelings in a country -- just two hours flying time from the United States -- where her husband is very popular.
International aid workers are striving to care for more than one million homeless Haitian quake survivors who are camped out in makeshift tent and shelter communities sprawled across the capital and in other damaged towns.
At a donors’ conference in New York on March 31, governments, multilateral institutions and non-governmental organizations from around the world pledged nearly $10 billion for Haiti’s reconstruction.
Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Chris Wilson