Puerto Rico crisis: San Juan Mayor slams US officials over response to Hurricane Maria relief efforts

The mayor says food, water, and medical supplies are trapped in ports and cannot reach the people who need it

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 29 September 2017 15:40 BST
San Juan Mayor: "This isn't a good story, this is a people are dying story"

The mayor of Puerto Rico's capital San Juan has hit back at the Trump administration's description of hurricane relief efforts as a "good news" story, calling it "a 'people are dying' story" as millions wait for aid.

Reacting with shock and anger to remarks by Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, Carmen Yulin Cruz said: "Damn it, this is not a good news story".

Residents have expressed their frustration that help is yet to reach many areas, and Ms Yulin Cruz was quick to point out the hardships people are facing.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said "maybe from where she's standing it's a good news story, but when you're drinking from a creek, when you don't have food for a baby, it's not a good news story."

"I'm sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me"

Late on Thursday, Ms Duke said: "This is a good news story, what's happening in Puerto Rico, in terms of ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have occurred in such a devastating storm."

Ms Duke added that she is "very satisfied, I know it is a hard storm to recover from but the amount of progress that's been made - and I would really appreciate any support that we can get."

Ms Yulin Cruz invited the Homeland Security Secretary to visit Puerto Rico before making a positive comment and characterised Ms Duke's comment as "an irresponsible statement and a contrast with statements of support that I have been getting."

"This is a 'people are dying' story, this is a life and death story, this is a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story," the mayor said on the verge of tears and sounding exhausted.

"If I could scream it a lot louder, I would."

Ms Cruz also thanked Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers saying "they have their hearts in the right place" but she relayed that the Puerto Rican people are desperate for these workers to be able to do their jobs as the crisis "continues to worsen".

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday morning about Governor Ricardo Rossello's praise for the administration's response and thanked FEMA workers as well.

Mr Rossello told CNN the federal government has responded to his requests and that he was in regular contact with the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but more needed to be done.

“We are maximizing all of the resources that we have so that we can deliver goods, water food and supplies,” he said. “We do have severe logistical limitations. It has been enhancing but it's still nowhere near where it needs to be.”

Ms Yulin Cruz acknowledged Mr Trump's help, but asked for more immediate action.

“Mr. Trump, we appreciate everything you're doing, and we know it can be done faster,” she said. “Let's just put a crew out there with enough equipment and let's just push things out of the way and move,” she said.

Mr Trump is set to visit Puerto on Tuesday, but some Puerto Ricans think it is too little too late. Referencing the furour over protests by NFL players taking a knee, which has been stoked by the president - Martha Moreno, 54, was not impressed.

"He's giving more importance to guys going down on their knees for the national anthem than a humanitarian emergency here," the teach told Reuters outside a convention centre in the capital San Juan.

Another resident Lara Brown, 42, said she expected "nothing" from Mr Trump's visit and complained that the relief had taken "far too long" to arrive.

More troops, medical supplies and vehicles are on the way to the island, but it will be some time before the US territory is back on its feet, the senior US general appointed to lead military relief operations said on Friday.

“We're certainly bringing in more,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan said on Friday, a day after he was appointed by the Pentagon to oversee the U.S. response.

Air Force, Navy and Army medical capabilities as well as more aircraft, helicopters of different types, and more logistical support are being dispatched, he said. “It's not enough, but we're bringing more in,” General Buchanan said.

Asked how long it would take for Puerto Rico to recover, General Buchanan gave a slight sigh and said: “This is a very, very long duration.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in