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January 14th, 2010
Oh, you won't mind this at all...

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The American Red Cross says a plan to bring 45,000 evacuees from Haiti to Florida, and 4,000 of those to Orange County, is not set in stone. The Red Cross clarified Friday who could be involved in a plan to move people out of Haiti.

The The Red Cross is preparing for two things: the repatriation of Americans living in Haiti and the possibility of a mass migration of Haitian nationals.

The American Red Cross has seen massive migration into the U.S. from areas like Kosovo and Bosnia in the past, but no determination has been made yet in the case of Haiti. But the repatriation of Americans has already begun. Eyewitness News was told that it includes people like missionaries who may have already been working in Haiti before the quake.

The U.S. citizens are being brought into South Florida through Miami and Homestead, where their identities can be verified. Thursday night, five flights arrived with 190 Americans on board.

“I think that we will continue see U.S. citizens coming in over the weekend and through the beginning of next week. And that would be our first focus and first wave and, I think, as the conditions are assessed in Haiti and some decisions are made both with our federal government and the Haitian government about what’s best for their citizens,” Director of Emergency Services Becky Sebren said.

Americans continued to arrive in South Florida Friday afternoon and, as the United States plans its strategy to help Haiti, the state closest to the island nation is taking center stage with a plan to bring tens of thousands of refugees to Florida and approximately 4,000 to Orlando.

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty says he has some concerns with the possible plan. If Haitians are brought to Central Florida, the county, city and possibly other area communities will have to scramble to figure out where to put the earthquake victims, and it will be a tough challenge.

"It would occur to me that there is a legal process associated with that and it would probably have to come through the State Department in terms of citizenship and visas, work visas [and] that sort of thing," Mayor Crotty said.

What that influx of people brings with it is a very large service demand, particularly in the area of social services in what is already a tough economy.

"We're very stressed financially right now and this is going to add to that stress," Mayor Crotty said. "So this is a balance we're going to have to work on strengthening.

Governor Charlie Crist told Eyewitness News Friday that, while he's talked to the Secretary of Homeland Security about bringing Haitians to Florida, nothing has been decided at this point.

Governor Crist was at a jobs summit in Orlando Friday morning. Crist wouldn't confirm whether Haitian refugees would be coming to Central Florida; he did say that Florida has pledged to do everything it can to help those in need after the earthquake.

"We want to be in touch with the State Department, making sure we're doing what is necessary for these people to get the help they need and deserve," Crist said.

Governor Crist said, because of mild hurricane seasons for the past several years, there are a lot of relief supplies available in Florida. He said some of those supplies will be used to help Haitians in need.

Additionally, the State of Florida has opened a new emergency information hotline about the Haiti quake. It's meant to give Floridians a link to informational resources on the international response and recovery efforts.

The hotline number is 1-800-342-3557. You can call for information between the hours of 10:00am until 6:00pm.


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