Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Puerto Rico is getting a surge of aid, governor says

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A surge of fuel and food supplies and federal government personnel has begun to arrive in Puerto Rico, the governor of the storm-battered island said Sunday.

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló told reporters that over the next two days, more than half a million barrels of diesel fuel and nearly 1 million barrels of gasoline would reach Puerto Rico. The fuel is badly needed to power emergency generators and to distribute food and other supplies across the island.

Rosselló said that the Defense Department had increased its footprint on Puerto Rico to 6,400 people from roughly 4,600 two days earlier, with more coming, and that other federal agencies were also sending more staff to aid in the island's recovery from Hurricane Maria, which smashed through the island on Sept. 20.

The Trump administration's response to the disaster has become a heated political issue. Some Puerto Rican officials, including the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, have made televised pleas for a faster and more robust response. Others, like the governor, have spoken more positively about federal efforts.

Cruz on Sunday called for better, more coordinated federal aid to deal with the widespread storm damage on the island as President Donald Trump continued to praise the relief effort and the U.S. government response.

Trump spent much of Saturday attacking Cruz on Twitter, accusing her of "poor leadership" and of coordinating with Democrats to push "fake news" about his administration's disaster response. Cruz avoided directly criticizing Trump on Sunday and attempted to refocus the discussion on speeding aid and supplies to people on the island territory.

"All I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help," Cruz said in an interview on ABC's This Week. "It has to happen in a sustained manner. It has to happen quickly."

Cruz went on to compliment workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert for their work in recent days to restore power to parts of the island. Cruz also said she would be willing to meet with Trump during his planned visit to Puerto Rico this week.

"If he asks to meet with me, of course I would meet with him," Cruz said. "I mean, you know, anything that can be done and anyone that can listen."

For his part, Trump has tweeted that "the Fake News" and "politically motivated ingrates" were distorting the picture of what he maintained was an effective response to the storm.

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that his administration had "done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico." He also blamed "politically motivated ingrates" were distorting the picture of what he maintained was an effective response to the storm. The president also wrote, "All buildings now inspected — for safety," but offered no basis for the statement.

The assertion seemed to surprise Rosselló. "All buildings?" he said. "I'm not aware of such inspection. Of course, there are areas of Puerto Rico which we haven't really gotten in contact. Perhaps he was referring to a particular set of buildings. I'm not sure."

Life remains far from normal on the island, 11 days after the storm made landfall. The electricity system was devastated, and it could be months before residents get back regular electric service. The governor said that more than 720 of the island's 1,100 gas stations had reopened, but there are still shortages and distribution problems. Some stations in San Juan had short lines of customers Sunday, but others in outlying areas were still choked with lines that stretched hundreds of cars long.

According to a Puerto Rican government website tracking the recovery, 11 percent of cellphone towers are working, and 5 percent of the electric grid is operational. Authorities said that 46 of the island's 48 dialysis centers were operating, using diesel-fueled generators. Nine hospitals now have regular electricity service restored, and dozens more are running on generator power.

Rosselló was asked what else was needed to get Puerto Rico through the emergency.

"People, which we're getting," he said. "Resources, which we're getting. And fine-tuning the logistics of a new logistical system in Puerto Rico, because the roads have been decimated."

The political jousting has frustrated many lawmakers and observers, who worry that it distracts from the urgent need to coordinate relief efforts.

"Every minute we spend in the political realm bickering with one another over who's doing what, or who's wrong, or who didn't do right is a minute of energy and time that we're not spending trying to get the response right," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said during a Sunday interview on CBS's Face the Nation.

"I hope we'll stay 100 percent focused on what needs to be done to get the people of Puerto Rico help. And then we'll have plenty of time in the future to have these debates about who didn't do the right thing or what could have been done better," Rubio said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who challenged Trump for the GOP presidential nomination last year, said "when people are in the middle of the disaster, you don't start trying to criticize them. I just — I don't know what to say."

"The bottom line is, at least for the first week and a half, the effort has been slow-footed, disorganized, and not adequate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

He urged Trump "to stop calling names, stop downgrading the motives of people who are calling for help, but roll up his sleeves and get to work."

FEMA administrator Brock Long continued defending the agency's response, citing work to reopen 700 gas stations and roughly 50 percent of "private-sector grocery retail" and return telephone service to a third of the people on the island.

"I have disaster-assistance employee teams that are inundating Puerto Rico, going door to door, neighborhood to neighborhood, to try to get people registered," Long said Sunday in interview on This Week.

Long also said Cruz needs to be more engaged with coordination efforts on the island by meeting regularly at a joint field office established by the agency.

He added that FEMA employees have been forced to rebuild many of the most basic services in Puerto Rico, far beyond the demands that are typical in a disaster area.

"We've got a long way to go," Long said. "Let's call it what it is — there was a weak infrastructure and building codes, and this place was wiped out by not one hurricane, but two."

Information from the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

 
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