By Nina Mandell
DNAinfo Reporter / Producer
MANHATTAN — An elite search and rescue team from New York City’s police and fire departments left Thursday night for Haiti to assist the rescue efforts after Tuesday’s devastating earthquake, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced.
“President Obama asked for our assistance and we are answering his call to respond to the unimaginably tragic events in Haiti by sending the best — our specially trained joint task force of New York City police officers and firefighters,” he said in a statement.
The team, New York Task Force One, is managed by the city’s Office of Emergency Management. It is trained to respond to catastrophes involving the collapse of heavy steel and concrete, and specializes in urban search and rescue.
They join thousands of rescuers from around the world that descended on Haiti this week to assist in the earthquake, which killed up to 50,000 people and has affected as many as 3 million people, according to the latest estimates.
Getting rescuers into Haiti has been one of the biggest challenges for the rescue efforts. Military specialists reestablished communications at the Port-au-Prince airport, but a lack of fuel and a crammed tarmac prompted the Haitian government to halt incoming flights. Teams managed to get one runway operational, but it can only handle four airplanes at a time, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The quake also caused the main port in Port-au-Prince to collapse, making it difficult for ships carrying supplies to dock.
In New York, news of relatives and friends began to trickle in. Two NYU students, Nathalie Pierre and Greg Childs, were found safe in Haiti.
"The University is very grateful for all the assistance we received from the State Department and other government agencies and elected officials,” NYU said in a statement. “We're overjoyed to know they are coming home, safe and sound. This is a very happy ending to this story."
Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson's office has established an online registry of New York State residents who were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. The Web-based application and a toll-free hotline will be activated at noon Friday.
“Collecting information now about New York citizens in Haiti will help locate them once information becomes available,” Paterson said in a statement.
Also, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Bloomberg announced that city employees will be able to set aside part of their paychecks to aid in the Haitian disaster relief efforts.
The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City will ensure contributions through the program are directed to reputable organizations that are providing relief in Haiti.