CNN) — A spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross warned Wednesday that up to 3 million people may have been affected by Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti as aid organizations and governments deployed response teams and pledged resources to the disaster-stricken Caribbean nation.
Paul Conneally, speaking from Switzerland, said Red Cross field workers on the ground were being hindered by severe infrastructural damage following the 7.0-magnitude quake.
He said there was a “48-hour window” to support search and rescue efforts and “reinforce emergency health services.” Field hospitals would ease the strain on the overwhelmed Haitian health infrastructure, he added.
Humanitarian charity Oxfam said it was rushing rescue teams to the country from around the region to provide clean water, sanitation, shelter and emergency supplies and called for donations to fund its efforts.
Kristie van de Wetering, a former Oxfam employee based in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, said the situation in the capital was “very chaotic” with many buildings reduced to rubble.
“We can hear people calling for help from every corner. The aftershocks are ongoing and making people very nervous,” she said.
Other groups including Medicins Sans Frontieres have also deployed teams on the ground amid what local officials described as a “catastrophe of major proportions.”
Countries from around the world including the U.S., France, Cuba and China also pledged support.
The U.S. Agency for International Development should have an emergency response team on the ground by early afternoon local time as U.S. embassy staff reported that the country’s main airport was operable again, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
A search-and-rescue team from Fairfax, Virginia, is also due to fly into Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. The U.S. is also sending aid by ship, and the crew of the USNS Comfort has been ordered to report to the Navy hospital ship — currently in Baltimore — for deployment to Haiti.
The top U.S. military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, said the armed forces would do all they can to help.
“I do want to express our thoughts and condolences for all the citizens of Haiti, and those who’ve been struck by this very significant tragedy. And also, certainly, from my perspective, the United States is going to do all we can to help,” he said.
“I know there are also significant international efforts, and all those will be greatly appreciated. So we should just keep the Haitian people in our thoughts and in our hearts today as they start to recover from this very, very tragic incident,” he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his support and solidarity with the Haitian people as France — which governed Haiti until 1804 — dispatched two planeloads of rescue personnel to the country from Guadeloupe in the Caribbean and Marseilles.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said volunteers in Haiti were assisting the injured and supporting hospitals which had been overwhelmed by the disaster.
It said it had enough supplies in Haiti for 3,000 families. Experts in disaster response are due to arrive in the country later Wednesday to coordinate international relief efforts, it said.
“The most urgent needs at this time are search and rescue, field hospitals, emergency health, water purification, emergency shelter, logistics and telecommunications,” the group said in a statement.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said that its Trinite hospital in Port-au-Prince had been seriously damaged and that staff and patients were injured and unaccounted for. Two other aid centers run by the group in the country were also damaged.
Hospitals in the capital were seeing an influx of wounded and MSF said it was seeking to establish a surgical capacity to respond to new patients, many suffering from crushed limbs and head wounds.
MSF emergency management expert Paul McPhun said the group had a mobile hospital with 100 beds and two operating theaters ready to go, but is not sure how to get it in place.
“The problem is not the materials or the staff, but how to get it into place. The challenge is how to get our people and our resources into (the capital) Port-au-Prince,” he said in a teleconference from Toronto, Canada.
The quake struck about 15 km (10 miles) southwest of Port-au-Prince shortly before 5 p.m. local time, cutting off communications across much of the country.
“Port-au-Prince is devastated, lot of deaths. SOS. SOS…,” wrote Louise Ivers, the clinical director of medical charity Partners In Health, in an e-mail to the group’s offices in Boston, Massachusetts.
She added: “Temporary field hospital … needs supplies, pain meds, bandages. Please help us.”
Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., said the country was going through “the worst day in its history.”
“I’m calling on all friends of Haiti and people who are listening to me to please come to our aid,” Joseph told CNN by telephone. “The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best.”
Singer Wyclef Jean, nephew of ambassador Joseph and founder of the Yele Haiti relief charity, said that aid needed to be deployed by the international community straight away.
“We’re going to need the United States and the international community to react immediately,” Jean told CNN.
Roads in Haiti were unsafe to travel on because of a lack of lighting and because many buildings along transportation routes had collapsed or were not deemed safe, said Ian Rodgers of the relief organization Save the Children.
“What I can hear is very distressed people,” Rogers said. “There is a lot of distress and wailing of people trying to find loved ones.”
A representative for the aid group Catholic Relief Services in Haiti described the situation in the nation as “a total disaster,” said Robyn Fieser, regional information officer for the group.