The U.S. ramped up its response Monday to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, even as President Donald Trump brought up the island’s struggles before Hurricane Maria struck — including “billions of dollars” in debt to “Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
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.
The president said Tuesday that he plans to visit Puerto Rico next week, the earliest he said he can go without disrupting recovery operations.
Trump 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.
Story by The Associated Press
The federal response to Maria faces obvious logistical challenges beyond those in Texas or Florida. Supplies must be delivered by air or sea, rather than with convoys of trucks.
FEMA said it had more than 700 staff on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They were helping coordinate a federal response that now includes more than 10,000 federal personnel spread across the two Caribbean archipelagos.
In Puerto Rico, federal workers supplied diesel to fuel generators at hospitals and delivered desperately needed food and water to hard-hit communities across the island. Cargo flights are bringing in additional supplies, and barges loaded with more goods are starting to arrive in the island’s ports.
San Juan’s international airport handled nearly 100 arrivals and departures on Sunday, including military and relief operations, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Pentagon dispatched the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, which provided helicopters and Marines to help with the relief effort onshore.
However, the Trump administration said Monday it would not waive federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo as it had following Harvey and Irma. The administration said it will continue to enforce the Jones Act, which requires that goods transported between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flagged ships.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said the agency had concluded there were already enough US-flagged vessels available.