Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Puerto Ricans say US relief efforts failing them

The Trump administration has declared that its relief efforts in Puerto Rico are succeeding, but people on the island said help was scarce eight days after Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory.

President Donald Trump cleared the way for more supplies to head to Puerto Rico by issuing a 10-day waiver of federal restrictions on foreign ships delivering cargo to the island. And House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account would get a 6.7 billion US dollar (£5 billion) boost by the end of the week.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke declared that "the relief effort is under control". "It is really a good news story, in terms of our ability to reach people," she told reporters in the White House driveway.

Outside the capital, San Juan, people said that was far from the truth.

"I have not received any help, and we ran out of food yesterday," said Mari Olivo, a 27-year-old homemaker whose husband was pushing a shopping cart with empty plastic gallon jugs while their two children, nine and seven, each toted a large bucket. They stood in line in a car park in the town of Bayamon near the hard-hit northern coast, where local police used hoses to fill up containers from a city water truck.

"I have not seen any federal help around here," said Javier San Miguel, a 51-year-old accountant.

Mr Trump tweeted later: "FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico." He also took issue with media coverage of the administration's response, writing: "Wish press would treat fairly!"

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, called for the US military to immediately provide security and distribution of aid in remote areas. "As was said after Hurricane Andrew: 'Where the hell is the cavalry?'" he said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said 10,000 government workers, including more than 7,000 troops, were helping Puerto Rico recover.

The US military was sending a three-star general to Puerto Rico to help direct the hurricane response. Lt Gen Jeff Buchanan, commander of US Army North, was set arrive to assess the situation so that the military can provide the highest possible level of support, Northern Command spokesman John Cornelio said.

In the town of San Lorenzo, about 40 miles west of the capital, people walked through calf-high water to get supplies because the bridge over the Manati river outside town was washed away in the storm.

San Lorenzo residents are collecting spring water to drink and taking turns cooking food for each other because residents are running low on basic supplies.

"Just like God helps us, we help each other," said resident Noemi Santiago, weeping. "Here one person makes food one day, another makes it the other day, so that the food that we have goes further."

Fema, which is leading the relief effort, has sent 150 containers filled with relief supplies to the port of San Juan since the hurricane struck on September 20, said Omar Negron, director of Puerto Rico's Ports Authority. He said all the containers were dispatched to people in need but private aid supplies have not reached Puerto Rico.

"The federal response has been a disaster," said Jose Enrique Melendez, a member of governor Ricardo Rossello's New Progressive Party. "It's been really slow."

Mr 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.

"The electric power grid in Puerto Rico is totally shot. Large numbers of generators are now on Island. Food and water on site," Mr Trump tweeted early in the day.

AP

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph