October 9, 2017
Photo: Puerto Rico National Guard members, along with employees from the Aqueducts and Sewers Authority of Puerto Rico, distribute water in Utuado. (Photo: Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Caribbean News Now) — After removing information last week documenting how much of Puerto Rico still lacked power or access to drinking water from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, while retaining more positive details, FEMA Administrator Brock Long confirmed the agency was ignoring pleas for help from the mayor of San Juan.
Brock told US media, “We filtered out the mayor a long time ago. We don’t have time for the political noise.”
By official estimates, only 12 percent of power has been restored on the island. Even drinking water in many areas remains limited: just over half of customers reliant on Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) have potable water.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz said the federal government’s response has been slow, inadequate, or downright nonexistent. She said FEMA had offered “no response” after a hospital requested aid.
Cruz repeatedly tweeted: “WE NEED WATER!” throughout the early hours of the Sunday. She shared photos of volunteers and continued to plead for help, saying authorities in the federal government “do not want to help.”
Cruz’s comments followed President Donald Trump’s self-congratulatory assessment of his administration’s performance in Puerto Rico, and a renewed round of insults about Cruz’s work on the island.
In an interview with Mike Huckabee, Trump described the paper towel rolls he tossed into crowds of people In Puerto Rico: “They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels.”
Trump also told Huckabee that Cruz “did a very poor job,” adding, “she’s not a capable person.”
He said the media should have blamed Cruz rather than criticizing his efforts.
On Sunday, US soldiers handed out dozens of boxes of emergency food and water rations in the coastal town of Aguadilla.
“I think it’s going great,” said Patrick Hernandez, assistant administrator for field operations for FEMA.
However, residents and local officials often tell completely different stories about the distribution of relief supplies, with many Puerto Ricans saying they feel forgotten and vulnerable.
“It’s nasty. People are desperate. They got no water…Some people are starving,” said one resident.
Responding to the continuing crisis, US military officials outlined on Sunday how they will alter the distribution of food, water and fuel to many of the island’s 78 municipalities, militarizing relief efforts in a significant way.
Brig. Gen. Jose Reyes, assistant adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, said in an interview that the new strategy calls for placing 10 to 20 soldiers in each municipality, providing them with vehicles and logistical support, and tasking them with delivering relief to each neighborhood.
“We need to push it directly to the barrio to ensure that everyone’s getting it,” Reyes said. “They will have some vehicles. They will have radio communications as well as logistics support…They are going to be living there. They are going to be operating 24/7.”
The commander of relief efforts, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, acknowledged that distribution of aid on the municipal level has not always gone smoothly.
As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, Trump made an unscheduled trip to his golf resort in Virginia on Saturday, marking his 69th golf trip since taking office in January 2017, meaning that he has spent more than 25 percent of his presidency on a golf course.
Meanwhile, Trump will not renew the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico, which expired on Sunday night. He had temporarily waived the provisions of the Act on September 28.