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Nations, Aid Groups Ramp Up to Help Haiti

Updated at 5:00 a.m. Eastern.

The International Red Cross and other aid groups said Wednesday they were preparing a major disaster relief effort in Haiti after a powerful earthquake struck the capital.

ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno said the agency was preparing to send a relief team from Geneva to help hospitals deal with casualties caused by "massive destruction in all the main neighborhoods of the city."

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Schorno said that Haitian Red Cross staff were completely overwhelmed and that there was little or no coordinated aid effort at this point. He said there was "very little information about the scale of the disaster."

The U.S., Britain, France, Mexico, Venezuela and Taiwan have pledged to send aid teams.

The United States started its disaster response efforts Tuesday at the Department of State, according to spokesman Philip Crowley, as President Obama ordered U.S. agencies to begin preparations.

"It is the poorest country in the hemisphere and clearly will need an enormous amount of assistance," Crowley said. "And as the President said, we are standing by to do whatever we can."

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry said Wednesday that two airplanes carrying humanitarian aid would depart later in the day for the Haitian capital. He said the main airport in Port-au-Prince was able to accommodate landing aid flights.

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While communications between Washington and the U.S. Embassy in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were spotty, officials there reported "significant damage."

The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Southern Command started to coordinate on Tuesday.

The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance will be assembling a team to send to Haiti, Crowley said, including search and rescue experts from the U.S.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said, "This is the worst possible time for a natural disaster in Haiti, a country which is still recovering from the devastating storms of just over a year ago."

Engel urged the administration "to do everything possible to help" the Haitian people recover.

Former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said his office and the rest of the U.N. system were monitoring the situation. He pledged relief, rebuilding and recovery assistance to Haiti.

South Florida's large Haitian-American community reacted with worry after learning that their homeland had been hit by a devastating earthquake.

West Palm Beach firefighter Nate Lasseur was desperately trying Tuesday to reach family and the firefighters he trains in Port-au-Prince. Lasseur says land lines, cell phones and Internet connections are all down.

Lasseur was training firefighters in Port-au-Prince in November 2008 when a school collapsed, killing nearly a hundred people. He described a chaotic scene then and feared the Port-au-Prince fire station would be overwhelmed by debris from the capital's many unsafe buildings clogging the narrow roads.

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