More help, less spin

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion -

Florid­i­ans and Puerto Ri­cans are all Amer­i­cans — and our fed­eral gov­ern­ment is fail­ing Puerto Rico in its great­est time of need. The is­land re­mains dev­as­tated by Hur­ri­cane Maria amid grow­ing con­cerns about a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter. This can­not be­come an­other epic fail­ure re­sem­bling the de­ba­cle fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has to con­tinue to ramp up re­lief ef­forts.

There should be more help and less spin com­ing from Wash­ing­ton. The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s cap­i­tal city, said Fri­day the sit­u­a­tion has been wors­en­ing with se­vere short­ages of food, wa­ter and fuel. Res­i­dents are wait­ing hours for ice and walk­ing miles to fill gaso­line cans. Re­lief sup­plies are sit­ting on docks be­cause there are not enough trucks to take them to the hard­est-hit ar­eas. There is vir­tu­ally no elec­tric­ity and lit­tle phone ser­vice. No won­der San Juan Mayor Car­men Yulin Cruz crit­i­cized act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Elaine Duke’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the fed­eral re­sponse as a “good news story’’ and de­clared later Fri­day, “We are beg­ging.’’

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump con­tin­ued to de­fend the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse Fri­day, and FEMA of­fi­cials said ports and air­ports are func­tion­ing bet­ter and more miles of high­ways are be­ing re­opened. But a com­par­i­son of the re­sponse time­lines to Ka­t­rina in New Or­leans in 2005 and to Maria

in Puerto Rico now are not par­tic­u­larly fa­vor­able. Sen. Marco Ru­bio asked Trump this week to put the mil­i­tary in charge of the re­cov­ery ef­fort, and as Sen. Bill Nel­son tweeted, “Where is the cav­alry?’’

Florida and Tampa Bay are par­tic­u­larly vested in help­ing Puerto Rico. More than 1 mil­lion Puerto Ri­cans live in Florida, in­clud­ing nearly 115,000 who live in Hillsborough County. There are plenty of heart­break­ing sto­ries of fam­i­lies here wait­ing to hear more from rel­a­tives on the is­land. This state could wind up re­ceiv­ing thou­sands of Puerto Ri­cans — U.S. cit­i­zens — flee­ing the Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory, and Gov. Rick Scott vis­ited the is­land this week and dis­cussed his trip with Trump on Fri­day.

Help­ing Puerto Rico re­cover fol­low­ing this deadly hur­ri­cane is go­ing to take ad­di­tional mem­bers of the mil­i­tary, bil­lions in fed­eral aid and ro­bust char­i­ta­ble ef­forts. The ur­gency and the com­mit­ment should be no less for Puerto Rico than it would be for Florida or any state. We are all Amer­i­cans.

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