Puerto Rico re­cov­ery ef­fort prompts ‘may­day’ call

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD OBITUARIES - By Arelis R. Her­nan­dez, Mark Berman and John Wag­ner

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — The gulf be­tween what Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton are say­ing about hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery ef­forts and what peo­ple in Puerto Rico are see­ing on the ground came into sharp view Fri­day, as the mayor of the ter­ri­tory’s cap­i­tal city made an ex­as­per­ated plea for help that seemed to cap­ture the col­lec­tive de­spair of the is­land’s res­i­dents.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­tin­ued to de­fend its han­dling of the dis­as­ter, which has swelled into a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis amid wide­spread short­ages of wa­ter and elec­tric­ity, while lo­cal of­fi­cials and res­i­dents alike have con­tin­ued to plead for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties.

Car­men Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, gave voice to this ten­sion Fri­day when she crit­i­cized act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Elaine Duke’s as­ser­tion that the fed­eral re­sponse is “a good-news story in terms of our abil­ity to reach peo­ple” and the rel­a­tively low death toll.

In tele­vised in­ter­views, she said the sit­u­a­tion on the is­land is any­thing but good news, with peo­ple scrap­ing for food, and for their lives. Cruz de­liv­ered what she de­scribed as a “may­day” call to Wash­ing­ton in a news con­fer­ence Fri­day, de­cry­ing fed­eral and lo­cal gov­ern­ment lo­gis­ti­cal fail­ures in de­liv­er­ing ba­sic goods to com­mu­ni­ties across Puerto Rico. She said the fed­eral re­sponse has “col­lapsed,” emo­tion­ally de­scrib­ing how pro­vin­cial may­ors have tried un­suc­cess­fully to re­trieve cru­cial goods from the gov­ern­ment com­mand cen­ter in San Juan.

“Peo­ple are dy­ing in this coun­try,” Cruz said. “I am beg­ging, beg­ging any­one that can hear us, to save us from dy­ing. If any­body out there is lis­ten­ing to us, we are dy­ing, and you are killing us with the in­ef­fi­ciency and the bu­reau­cracy.”

Mil­lions across Puerto Rico — a U.S. ter­ri­tory home to more than 3 mil­lion Amer­i­can cit­i­zens — have strug­gled since Hur­ri­cane Maria tore across the is­land on Sept. 20, leav­ing them with­out ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, drink­ing wa­ter, food and med­i­cal sup­plies. Hos­pi­tals have lost power, lead­ing to con­cerns of a pub­lic-health emer­gency.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment’s ini­tial re­sponse has come un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny, with crit­ics com­par­ing it to the poor fed­eral re­ac­tion to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005 and con­trast­ing it un­fa­vor­ably with the ef­fort shown af­ter two re­cent hur­ri­canes bat­tered Texas and Florida.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has bris­tled at the crit­i­cism. Tom Bossert, the White House home­land se­cu­rity ad­viser, said Fri­day: “I don’t ac­cept that we’re do­ing any­thing short of ev­ery­thing we can do.”

Duke trav­eled to Puerto Rico on Fri­day and spoke briefly about her pre­vi­ous com­ments, say­ing she was proud of the work fed­eral of­fi­cials and first re­spon­ders are do­ing.

“Clearly, the sit­u­a­tion here in Puerto Rico, af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane, is not sat­is­fac­tory, but to­gether weare get­ting there, and the progress to date is very, very strong,” she said at a news brief­ing.

At least 16 peo­ple have died in Puerto Rico, of­fi­cials say, a num­ber that is ex­pected to climb as the re­cov­ery con­tin­ues.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump told re­porters Fri­day while leav­ing the White House that “we’ve made tremen­dous strides” re­spond­ing in Puerto Rico, and he pointed to the low death toll dur­ing his com­ments.

“The loss of life — it’s al­ways tragic — but it’s been in­cred­i­ble the re­sults that we’ve had with re­spect to loss of life,” Trump said. “Peo­ple can’t be­lieve how suc­cess­ful that has been rel­a­tively speak­ing.”

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