Trump tweets on Puerto Rico show confidence in aid, despite harsh criticism
Response to what the San Juan mayor has called a humanitarian crisis has been slow to filter in.
Nearly half the population is still without power.
WATCH: Aerial footage of post-hurricane damage over northern Puerto Rico
“I have not received any help, and we ran out of food yesterday,” Mari Olivo, a 27-year-old in Bayamon, told the Associated Press Thursday.
“I have not seen any federal help around here,” Javier San Miguel, a 51-year-old accountant, said.
But U.S. President Donald Trump and his advisers defended the administration’s response to the hurricane, which destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure and left many residents desperate for fresh water, power, food and other supplies.
Thursday morning, Trump waived federal restrictions on foreign shipments of cargo to the U.S. territory, which will allow aid to travel into Puerto Rico quickly. House Speaker Paul Ryan also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account would get a $6.7 billion boost by the end of the week.
Trump’s administration has been criticized for the tardiness of the actions – which came nine days after Maria passed over the island.
“The federal response has been a disaster,” said lawmaker Jose Enrique Melendez, a member of Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s New Progressive Party. “It’s been really slow.”
He said the Trump administration had focused more on making a good impression on members of the media gathered at San Juan’s convention center than bringing aid to rural Puerto Rico.
WATCH: Ongoing coverage of aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
Later Thursday, Trump praised the government response in a tweet, saying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was doing a great job.
He also called out the media saying “Wish press would treat fairly!”
Other Trump administration officials offered the same sentiment.
“I am very satisfied,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said outside the White House on Thursday.
“I know it’s a hard storm to recover from but the amount of progress that’s been made — and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that “food and water [were] on site.”
But in many cases, “on site” meant stored on pallets and in containers in sea — and at airports far from the towns where Puerto Ricans desperately lined up for fresh water and pre-made meals being distributed by federal officials.
Around 10,000 shipping containers full of food and supplies were sitting idle at the San Juan airport, CNN reported, because of the damage to the island’s infrastructure. A fuel shortage, along with a shortage of truckers to distribute the containers aren’t helping the issue.
A new face took over control of the hurricane relief Thursday.
Three-star Lt. General Jeffery Buchanan will lead all military efforts in the situation, officials said.
Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security advisor, said the change in leadership isn’t due to the current administration making any mistakes. He said the impression of a slow response isn’t so much wrong as it is outdated.
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