President heads to Puerto Rico to survey hurricane damage

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will travel to Puerto Rico Tuesday to meet with first responders and survivors after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island over a week ago.

The trip will be President Trump’s fourth to a region battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and whipped by winds.

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are scheduled to attend briefings and meet with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They’ll also meet with Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight Deck of the USS Kearsarge.

Even before the hurricane hit, Puerto Rico was in dire condition thanks to a decade-long economic recession that had left its infrastructure, including the island’s power lines, in a sorry state. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century and unleashed floods and mudslides that knocked out the island’s entire electrical grid and telecommunications, along with many roads.

Nearly two weeks later, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals. And much of the countryside is still struggling to access basic necessities, including food, fresh water and cash.

White House officials said progress is being made. While early response efforts were hampered by logistical challenges, officials said that conditions, especially in the capital, have improved. More than 12,000 federal aid workers are on the island, and hospitals and airports are coming back online.

Approximately 45 percent of customers now have access to drinking water. Businesses are also beginning to re-open, with 60 percent of retail gas stations now up and running.

Officials said they hope to have power restored to the entire island before March.

“The federal government is doing everything within our powers and capabilities to first focus on the life sustaining and life saving measures,” said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

President Trump and other administration officials have worked in recent days to reassure Americans that recovery efforts are going well and combat the perception that the President failed to fully grasp the magnitude of the storm’s destruction in its immediate aftermath.

While some residents welcome the President’s attention to their needs, others question whether it will have any impact.

Resident Liliana Castro told reporters, “I don’t think it will make much difference whether he comes or not. If it were up to me, he can stay where he is.”