The mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital has hit back at the comments by a top Trump administration official who said the federal effort to help the US island territory recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria is “a good news story.
“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN angrily on Friday.
“This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”
Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, head of the parent department for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said on Thursday she was satisfied with the disaster response so far.
“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,” Duke said.
Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island, according to the official death toll.
As most of the island’s 3.4 million residents faced a 10th day without power and struggled to find fuel and clean water, Cruz bristled at Duke’s comment.
“This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water,” Cruz said on CNN. “It is not good news when people are dying.”
Appearing in a later interview wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Help us. We are dying,” Cruz said she was hopeful the situation would improve.
“People can’t fathom what it is to have children drinking from creeks, to have people in nursing homes without oxygen.”
The mayor of San German, a town of about 35,000, echoed Cruz’s harsh words.
“The governor is giving a message that everything is resolved, and it is not true,” Mayor Isidro Negron Irizarry said in Spanish on Twitter. “There is no functional operations structure. We are alone.”
Duke travelled to Puerto Rico on Friday, saying she was proud of the recovery work being done but she and President Donald Trump would not be satisfied until the territory was fully functional.
Trump, who was scheduled to visit next week, addressed the situation on Friday before a speech in Washington about his new tax plan.
“The electrical grid and other infrastructure were already in very, very poor shape,” he said.
“And now virtually everything has been wiped out, and we will have to really start all over again. We’re literally starting from scratch.”
Colonel James DeLapp, the Army Corps of Engineers commander for Puerto Rico, told CNN that rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid was a massive undertaking.
“The closest thing we’ve had is when the Army Corps led the effort to restore Iraq’s electricity in the early stages of the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004,” he said.