In the wake of Tuesday's devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, singer Wyclef Jean has issued an urgent plea for help for his struggling homeland.
"Haiti today faced a natural disaster of unprecedented proportion, an earthquake unlike anything the country has ever experienced," Jean wrote on his Web site of the island nation, which is one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The massive earthquake, the largest the Caribbean island has seen in more than 200 years, struck around 4:50 p.m. on Tuesday. The epicenter was around 10 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince, which according to reports was largely destroyed by the initial quake and a series of aftershocks. While damage and casualty figures were not available at press time, they are expected to be high due to the poor construction of many of the island's buildings.
"I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse," Wyclef continued. "The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now. President Obama has already said that the U.S. stands 'ready to assist' the Haitian people. The U.S. military is the only group trained and prepared to offer that assistance immediately. They must do so as soon as possible. The international community must also rise to the occasion and help the Haitian people in every way possible."
Jean established the non-profit Yele Haiti Foundation in 2004 to provide scholarships for the country's children, and he has worked with the United Nations World Food Programme to send food assistance to the island. He is encouraging people to text "Yele" to 501501, which will automatically donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund or visit Yele.org and click "donate" to help the island's people.
Speaking to CNN's Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night, Wyclef said he was talking to a friend on the phone in Haiti when she said, "I think an earthquake is coming," and the call was dropped. More than 45 minutes later, he got a return text from that friend, who said the buildings were collapsing all around her. He said he was also looking for information on a rapper named Jimmy O, who is a part of the Yele organization, and who is believed to have died in the quake.
The earthquake is the latest disaster to strike the island nation, which has endured decades of economic instability, poverty, the reigns of several vicious dictators and a string of hurricanes and other natural disasters that have kept it in need of massive amounts of world aid. Jean urged his fellow 4 million Haitians in the diaspora to step up and help their countrymen. "My urgency right now is really a cry of freedom saying we really need a state of emergency right now."
According to reports, the presidential palace and other major buildings in the capital city were destroyed in the quake. Chaos reigned as night fell on Tuesday, and trapped victims screamed for help from the rubble. With no electricity, phone lines down and the airport closed, getting much-needed aid to the people became a priority for the international community, which was scrambling to fly in supplies.
President Obama told members of his national security staff late Tuesday that he expects "an aggressive, coordinated effort" to help Haiti, according to The Associated Press. The president said teams from the Defense, State and Homeland Security departments had deployed on Wednesday (January 13) to start helping victims.
Former President Bill Clinton, a U.N. special envoy for Haiti, said in a statement: "My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti. My U.N. office and the rest of the U.N. system are monitoring the situation, and we are committed to do whatever we can to assist the people of Haiti in their relief, rebuilding and recovery efforts."
The State Department has set up a toll-free number to call for information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747.