US general picked for Puerto Rico aid
SAN JUAN: The Pentagon yesterday named a senior general to command military relief operations in hurricaneravaged Puerto Rico and the Trump administration sent a senior emissary to the island as United States lawmakers called for a more robust response to the crisis.
The US territory of 3.4 million people struggled through a ninth day with virtually no electricity, patchy communications and shortages of fuel, clean water and other essentials in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years.
The storm struck on September 20 with lethal, roofripping force and torrential rains that caused widespread flooding and heavily damaged homes, roads and other infrastructure.
The storm killed more than 30 people across the Caribbean, including at least 16 in Puerto Rico. Governor Ricardo Rossello called the island’s devastation unprecedented.
The US military, which has poured thousands of troops into the relief effort, named Lieutenantgeneral Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee its response on the island.
Buchanan will be the Pentagon’s main liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), the US Government’s lead agency on the island, and focus on aid distribution, the Pentagon said.
Fema has already placed the US Army Corps of Engineers in charge of rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid.
In yet another move raising the administration’s profile in the crisis, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke will visit Puerto Rico today with other senior government officials to meet the governor, Puerto Rican authorities and federal relief workers.
President Donald Trump again praised the Government’s performance, saying on Twitter Fema and other first responders were ‘‘doing a GREAT job’’, but complained about media coverage.
Democratic US Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, said the crisis was shifting from a natural disaster to a manmade one. The Government’s response had been ‘‘shamefully slow and undersized and should be vastly upgraded and increased’’, he told the Senate.
He called for as many as 50,000 troops to better coordinate logistics and delivering help.
Even as Fema and the US military stepped up relief efforts, many residents in Puerto Rico voiced frustration.
In one sign of the sense of desperation, thousands lined up at San Juan harbour yesterday to board a cruise ship bound for Florida. The humanitarian mission, offered free of charge, was arranged between Royal Caribbean International and Puerto Rican authorities on a largely adhoc, firstcome basis that sought to give priority to those facing special hardships.
The Trump administration earlier lifted restrictions known as the Jones Act for 10 days on foreign shipping from the US mainland to Puerto Rico. While that measure might help speed cargo shipments, Puerto Rico is struggling to move supplies around the island once they arrived.
Overall, the island is likely to need far more than $US30 billion ($NZ41.6 billion) in longterm aid for disaster relief and rebuilding efforts after Maria, a senior Republican congressional aide said yesterday.
The immediate relief effort was badly hampered by infrastructure damage.
Puerto Rico will ask the US Federal Reserve and Treasury for lines of credit ‘‘at reasonable rates’’ as it struggles to rebuild after the hurricane, Governor Ricardo Rossello said yesterday.
‘‘We are not going to have revenues in the next couple of months so that puts us in a bind,’’ Rossello told CNBC.
As of yesterday, the Fed had ‘‘not received a request at this time’’, a spokesman said. — Reuters