In Puerto Rico, a grow­ing sense of de­spair over aid

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - Nation&world - By The Wash­ing­ton Post

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 Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, gave voice to this ten­sion on 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.

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.”

“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 that is 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.

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 we are 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 that “we’ve made tremen­dous strides” re­spond­ing in Puerto Rico, and he pointed to the 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.”

Trump has also ref­er­enced con­di­tions that ex­isted in Puerto Rico be­fore the storm and men­tioned the ex­pected cost of the re­build­ing ef­fort.

“Ul­ti­mately the gov­ern­ment of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to de­ter­mine how this mas­sive re­build­ing ef­fort ... will be funded and or­ga­nized, and what we will do with the tremen­dous amount of ex­ist­ing debt al­ready on the is­land,” Trump said dur­ing a speech Fri­day.

Trump re­peat­edly as­serted that his ad­min­is­tra­tion was fac­ing un­prece­dented chal­lenges in re­spond­ing to a storm “of his­toric and cat­a­strophic sever­ity” and de­scribed Puerto Rico as “an is­land sur­rounded by wa­ter — big wa­ter, ocean wa­ter.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ri­cardo Ros­selló, who in­tro­duced Duke at the brief­ing Fri­day, again praised her and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts. While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has in re­cent days ramped up its ef­forts as it be­came ap­par­ent the ini­tial re­sponse was in­ad­e­quate, Ros­selló ac­knowl­edged Fri­day there is still more to be done.

“The re­sponse still is not where it needs to be, cer­tainly it’s not,” Ros­selló told MSNBC on Fri­day morn­ing. He added: “We do need more help.”


Air­men with the Con­necti­cut Air Na­tional Guard’s 103rd Air­lift Wing se­cured a cargo bay Fri­day as they pre­pared to de­part for Puerto Rico. The air­craft will de­liver sup­plies and sup­port equip­ment for Con­necti­cut Na­tional Guard troops there.


The hos­pi­tal ship USNS Com­fort was pre­pared for de­par­ture Fri­day from Nor­folk Naval Sta­tion to sup­port hur­ri­cane re­lief ef­forts in Puerto Rico.



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