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Earthquake in Haiti

Aid mission rolls out in 'record time' as warships leave Halifax for Haiti Add to ...

Two of Canada's warships, packed with medical supplies, water, purification equipment, food, blankets, clothes and other basic provisions, left this afternoon from Halifax for Haiti.

About the same time, one of the military's massive C-17 cargo planes left the Trenton, Ont., airbase; another C-17 that left this morning has already landed in Haiti. It was also packed with supplies and personnel and had on board a Griffon helicopter; one of the ships is bringing with it a Sea King helicopter. Two Hercules aircraft are also in the region.

"There are probably other things that will be required," said Defence Minister Peter MacKay, speaking from the deck of one of the ships, HMCS Halifax. "But the key was, as the admiral reminded me, to get out the door as quickly as possible. And so that has happened in record time."

Mr. MacKay was on board the ship to bid farewell to the crew before they were to sail for Haiti. He told reporters the military reconnaissance team that is already on the ground is reporting back and that it is right now mostly a "search-and-rescue" operation, removing rubble and trying to find individuals buried beneath collapsed buildings.

Earlier, the Defence Minister said he had met with the captain of the ship, Josée Kurtz, who is the first female commander in Canadian history. "Everyone here is pumped and busy as they prepare to leave," he said.

He also told a story of a young sailor who had $200 to buy some provisions. She went to one local store where they told her they had $7,000 worth of surplus clothing that they were sending back to the manufacturer. "Would you like it," they asked the sailor.

"Those are the types of donations that are being made," Mr. MacKay said. "They went with $200 and came back with $7,000."

Despite the store's generosity, the government and air organizations are urging that Canadians send money rather than clothing or perishables.

Revenue Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn wants Canadians to be informed donors and avoid being exploited by fake charities. His agency offers information for donors, including a list of all registered charities.

The government has also announced that it is matching dollar-for-dollar, up to $50-million, charitable donations for quake relief by individual Canadians. In fact, the Prime Minister and his wife, Laureen, made a donation to the Canadian Red Cross in Ottawa this afternoon.

And a group of Parliament Hill lobbyists, journalists and political staffers have created a Facebook group to raise awareness of the disaster and promote donations.

Other ministers have been busy today, too.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon met with members of the Haitian community in Montreal where there is concern about returning family members to Canada.

Asked whether the government will be relaxing its rules for immigration, Mr. Cannon said: "the Prime Minister gave directives to the authorities of the Department of Immigration to develop such options … and my colleague, Minister Jason Kenney, is looking into this as we speak."

Mr. Kenney's spokesman, Alykhan Velshi, told The Globe the minister is looking at "all options on the issue of visas, family reunification, and refugees."

There is also word today that former Liberal MP Serge Marcil, who had been reported missing in Haiti when the quake struck, has been found alive. An official at his engineering firm in Montreal said they were told by Foreign Affairs that Mr. Marcil was being airlifted to a Miami hospital. No other details were given.

(Photo: Soldiers guard a Canadian Forces plane upon its arrival in Port-au-Prince today. Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

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