The mayor of Puerto Rico’s largest city earned a rebuke from President Donald Trump Saturday after pleading for more federal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency, and the bureaucracy,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said Friday at a news conference. She highlighted donations from companies and others, including 200,000 pounds of food donated by Goya, as a contrast to federal help.
“This is what we got last night. Four pallets of water, three pallets of meals, and 12 pallets of infant food — which, I gave them to the people of Comerio, where people are drinking off a creek,” she said. “So, I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell.”
Criticism has been mounting over the Trump administration’s response to what is being called an unfolding humanitarian crisis, with some likening the situation to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
However, Trump hit back early Saturday, accusing Cruz of “poor leadership ability” and criticizing Puerto Rican officials. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he wrote on Twitter. “10,000 federal workers now on island doing a good job.”
Hurricane Maria knocked out power to most of Puerto Rico when it struck as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 20. The storm came on the heels of Hurricane Irma, which skirted past the island but still knocked out power to more than 1 million.
Some 18 people have been confirmed dead in Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm, while 27 died on the island of Dominica and one on the French territory of Guadeloupe.
Initially, the Trump administration named a one-star general to run U.S. military operations, then upgraded the command to three-star Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who headed to Puerto Rico on Thursday.
An Army spokesperson said that as of 4 p.m. ET Friday the Army has more than 4,900 soldiers and Army Corps of Engineers civilian personnel in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also hit by the hurricane. Thirty aircraft and more than 500 trucks are committed to relief efforts, the spokesperson said. The National Guard said it projects 1,400 guard forces will be sent to Puerto Rico over the next four days.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week that Puerto Rico has received 4.4 million meal kits, 6.5 million liters of water.
Yulín Cruz said help has not been reaching residents quickly enough. She said FEMA “has collapsed” in Puerto Rico.
“I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles,” she said. “If we don’t get the food and the water into people’s hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide,” she said later.
“I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives,” Yulín Cruz said.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long said Friday that progress is being made. He said airport and port capacity is increasing. “We are making progress, every day capacity is coming open,” he said.
“We’ve worked to clear 11 highways, we’re continuing to push forward and open up those arteries to be able to pump more in,” Long said. “The bottom line is that the capacity will continue to increase.”
President Donald Trump has praised the government’s response after the hurricane. “We have done an incredible job, considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with,” Trump said, adding that “the power grid is gone.”
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted Friday that he had called the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, “to ensure we’re doing all we can to back his recovery efforts.”
The vice president also announced that he would travel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands next week.
Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said Friday that “clearly, the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory, but together we are getting there.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott said Friday he was offering military support to help with the recovery operation on the island.
The governor, whose own state was hit by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, said Florida’s National Guard was assisting with coordination of the emergency response.