Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico, while Trump tweets about island’s Wall Street debt
The Trump administration has tried to blunt criticism that its response to Hurricane Maria has fallen short of its efforts in Texas and Florida after the recent hurricanes there.
Five days after the Category 4 storm slammed into Puerto Rico, many of the more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens in the territory were still without adequate food, water and fuel. Flights off the island were infrequent, communications were spotty and roads were clogged with debris. Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month.
Trump himself pointed out some differences between the two states and the island in a series of tweets Monday night.“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble.”
Trump also noted that the island’s electrical grid was already “in terrible shape.” Still, he promised, “Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well.”
In Washington, officials said no armada of U.S. Navy ships was headed to the island because supplies could be carried in more efficiently by plane. The Trump administration ruled out temporarily setting aside federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo, saying it wasn’t needed. The government had waived those rules in Florida and Texas until last week.
Though the administration said the focus on aid was strong, when two Cabinet secretaries spoke at a conference on another subject — including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose agency is helping restore the island’s power — neither made any mention of Puerto Rico or Hurricane Maria.
Democratic lawmakers with large Puerto Rican constituencies back on the mainland characterized the response so far as too little and too slow. The confirmed toll from Maria jumped to at least 49 on Monday, including 16 dead in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Ricans are Americans,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who traveled to Puerto Rico over the weekend to assess the damage. “We cannot and will not turn our backs on them.”
Trump himself was expected at the end of last week to visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, after they had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma. But the trip was delayed after Maria set its sights on the islands.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, and White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert landed in San Juan on Monday, appearing with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello at a brief news briefing. Though Rossello had urgently called for more emergency assistance over the weekend, he expressed his gratitude for the help so far.
The governor said the presence of Long and Bossert was “a clear indication that the administration is committed with Puerto Rico’s recovery process.”
Long said, “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We realize that.”
Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made no mention of Puerto Rico or the hurricane during a joint appearance before the National Petroleum Council, a business-friendly federal advisory committee. News reporters were not allowed to ask questions.