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Military personnel prepare to leave on a Disaster Assistance Response Team humanitarian mission to Haiti on Wednesday. ((Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press))

The federal government is earmarking up to $50 million to match Canadians' donations to charities aiding relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Minister of International Co-operation Bev Oda said Thursday morning the government will match the contributions of individuals to eligible Canadian charitable organizations in support of humanitarian and recovery efforts in response to the earthquake, up to a total of $50 million.

The money contributed would be managed through the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, run by the Canadian International Development Agency, said Oda.

The financial pledge came as two Canadian naval ships mobilized to leave Halifax to join military forces in the poverty-stricken country.

Haiti contacts

Canadians with family in Haiti can call the Foreign Affairs Emergency Operations Centre in Ottawa at 800-387-3124, 613-943-1055, or email sos@international.gc.ca. Canadians in Haiti can get in touch with Canadian Embassy officials in Port-au-Prince by calling 613-996-8885.

The frigate HMCS Halifax and the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan are loaded with first-aid kits, a Sea King helicopter and other supplies and equipment. After leaving port Thursday, they are expected to arrive in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince early next week.

The two ships are carrying as many as 500 sailors and Canadian Forces personnel.

The first wave of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team — a Hercules transport aircraft with a 20-person Canadian Forces assessment group — departed Wednesday and has already touched down in the Dominican Republic, neighbouring Haiti.

How to help

To help those affected by the earthquake, here's a list of organizations  accepting donations.

For information on CIDA's donation matching program, here's an FAQ provided by the government.

A CC-130 tactical plane and CC-177 cargo jet carrying a helicopter, personnel and tonnes of food and water as part of Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team were deployed early Thursday morning.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay told a news conference Thursday a second CC-177 was expected to depart CFB Trenton later in the day. He said as many as a couple of hundred Canadian Forces members would be in Haiti by the end of the day Thursday.

Oda had earlier said Canada will provide up to $5 million in immediate aid, including emergency shelter, medical services, food, relief items, water, and sanitation services and protection.

A number of provinces and cities across Canada have also pledged support for the devastated Caribbean country.

Lt.-Col. Dave Murphy said the operation in Haiti is just getting started.

"It's going to be a very large-scope operation," he said. "This may continue for quite some time which we are well prepared to support in the manner that's required."

The International Red Cross has estimated three million people — a third of the population — may need emergency relief that includes shelter, food and clean water.

The death toll from Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude quake is still unclear, but Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN Wednesday that it could be "well over 100,000."

The Canadian Forces can expect difficulties in providing aid, as the earthquake has damaged much of the country's infrastructure, including roads and power lines and facilities such as hospitals.

Cmdr. Art McDonald, captain of HMCS Halifax, said Wednesday the goal is to protect the vulnerable.

"A troubled and desperate population is going to be looking for help at a time when there is critical infrastructure that's been damaged," he said.

He expects the crews will be doing light engineering work similar to what was done in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

With files from The Associated Press