PUERTO RICO — Calls are growing for the Trump administration to do more to help the people of Puerto Rico, more than a week after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On Friday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz sent a message to President Donald Trump thanking him for calling Thursday, but reminding him there are more people “waiting anxiously” for aid.
“77 other towns that are waiting. They’re waiting anxiously and will be very grateful to you and to the American people if you continue to step up to the moral imperative that you’ve taken on all over the world to help those in need. So help us.”
The plea come just days after the President boasted about the United State’s response efforts. Three days later, even as harrowing scenes emerged from the territory, President Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke described the federal response to the disaster as “a good news story.”
“I am very satisfied,” Duke said. “I know it’s a hard storm to recover from but the amount of progress that’s been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
She clarified later, “It’s good news that we have a unification of command where the governor, the federal response, and the people are all united toward saving lives and giving things to the people they need.”
When asked for a response from CNN, Mayor Cruz was furious.
“Well maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story. When you are drinking from the creek it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings because you know, I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me. I would ask you to come down here and visit the towns. And then make a statement like that which frankly it is an irresponsible statement and it’s in contrast with the statements of support that I’ve been getting since yesterday when I got that call from the White House. Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life or death story. This is … there’s a truckload of stuff that can not be taken to people to store it. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water. If I could stream it a lot more louder. It is not a good news story when people are dying, when they don’t have dialysis, when their generators aren’t working and their oxygen isn’t providing for them. Where is there good news here?”
Her response echoes one given by FEMA Administrator Brock Long who declared that he was “not satisfied” with the situation in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan.
The government’s response also left retired Gen. Russel Honoré, who turned around the botched response to Katrina in 2005, fuming.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on!” he said on CNN, calling for the military to surge air traffic controllers onto the island to open airports, transportation specialists to clear roads and the deployment of many more troops, ships and helicopters.
“Puerto Rico is bigger than Katrina,” he said.
It’s no secret, Federal Emergency Management officials are exhausted after dealing with their third massive Hurricane in a few weeks after Harvey hit Texas and Irma barreled across Florida.
Puerto Rico is less developed and wealthy than those states, and the logistical challenges of helping an offshore island with mountainous terrain are immense.
The territory also lacks the network of NGOs and private sector groups that helped out when storms hit the US mainland.
The White House said Thursday that 10,000 federal relief workers and more than 7,000 troops were on the island in an operation that in many ways has more in common with US efforts to mitigate natural disasters in Haiti than storms on the US mainland.
“The island setting presents logistical hurdles that do not exist on the mainland, where trucks from around the country can converge on disaster areas,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday, using a formulation repeatedly voiced by officials in recent days.
President Donald Trump also defended his administration’s response to the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico on Friday, tweeting a quote from Gov. Ricardo Rosselló he said on CNN.
He tweeted, “Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: “The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered……”
He continued:” …The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
The President is expected to visit the island on Tuesday but the White House confirmed this morning that his wife Melania will not make the trip with him.