US lawmakers ask Trump to 'get to work' on Puerto Rico

People lining up to buy ice in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on Sept 30, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (REUTERS) - US lawmakers urged President Donald Trump on Sunday (Oct 1) to stop sniping at Puerto Ricans and get to work helping them recover from a devastating hurricane, two days before he was to visit the island, where people remained without food, water or power.

The Republican president said his government was doing a"great job" to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria and took a new swipe at critics who said he had been slow to aid the island, where the power grid was destroyed 12 days ago.

"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates," he said in a Twitter post.

Trump faces difficult weeks, if not months, in the US territory. His senior general leading military relief operations in Puerto Rico, Lieutenant General Jeff Buchanan, said they were clearing roads and getting more supplies to people, but recognised "it's still a long haul."

Trump has intensified his praise of the federal response after the mayor of San Juan made clear those efforts fell short and American media continued to broadcast images of the havoc and suffering on the island that belied his words.

At the same time, he criticised San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Saturday and said Puerto Ricans wanted "everything to be done for them."

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told CBS' "Face the Nation" the relief effort so far has been "slow footed, disorganized and not adequate."

"The president, instead of tweeting against the mayor of San Juan who's watching her people die and just made a plea for help, ought to roll up his sleeves and get to work here," he said.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential contender in 2016, said on CNN Trump's attacks from his "fancy golf club"on the struggling mayor of a destroyed city were "unspeakable." "I don't know what world Trump is living in," he said.

US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, urged an end to the political fingerpointing. "Every minute we spend in the political realm bickering with one another over who's doing what, or who's wrong, or who didn't do right is a minute of energy and time that we're not spending trying to get the response right," Rubio told CBS.

Cruz said on Sunday she would be willing to meet Trump when he visits the island on Tuesday. "If he asks to meet with me, of course I will meet him."

Trump launched his attack on San Juan's mayor during a weekend stay at his golf resort in New Jersey, where he was attending the President's Cup tournament on Sunday.

He dedicated the Cup trophy to victims of Maria and this summer's previous major hurricanes Irma and Harvey, "all of those people that went through so much, that we love."

Referring to Puerto Rico, Trump said "we have it under really great control."


Maria pummeled Puerto Rico on Sept 20 as a very powerful Category 4 hurricane on the heels of Irma, with roof-ripping winds and torrential rains that caused widespread flooding and heavily damaged homes, roads and other infrastructure. About half of the island's 3.4 million people do not have access to drinking water, and 95 per cent remain without power, according to the Pentagon.

Impassable roads have made it hard for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others to distribute food, water and fuel.

Carmen Miranda, 60, of Luquillo, is among those who has faced long lines for gasoline, medicine and supplies. She spent 13 hours one day trying to buy fuel at a station that ran dry and was in line on Saturday at a store that ran out of diesel.

"I'm going to have to come back another day," she said."It's just horrible, those lines. That needs to be resolved immediately. President Trump, anyone, help us!" she said.

At a briefing in San Juan, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello reported that fuel and food supplies had begun to arrive in Puerto Rico. "We still need to do much more," he said.

The Trump administration has been on the defensive since Friday when Cruz pounded the acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke over her comment that the federal response in Puerto Rico was "a good news story."

Trump accused the mayor of acting on behalf of Democrats. On Sunday, his representatives fanned out over the morning television news shows to chastise the tenacious Cruz.

Federal Emergency Management Administration ( FEMA) Director Brock Long admonished her for not being in closer contact with relief coordinators. Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin both said on Sunday that Cruz's criticism was unfair.

Cruz, who has been living in a shelter since her house was destroyed by Maria, pressed on with her appeal for basic necessities as insurers and politicians began to tally the costs of the storm and the size of the aid package Puerto Rico will need.

"Let us not talk about the debt, let us not talk about the cost of reconstruction. Let us just talk about saving lives right now," Cruz said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program.

Trump has alluded to the island's financial problems several times since Maria hit.

Puerto Rico filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. municipal history this year and had been struggling to regain economic stability in the face of a US$72 billion (S$98 billion) debt load and near-insolvent public health and pension systems, even before the hurricanes hit.

The insurance industry has begun to tally the damage from Maria, with one modeling company estimating that claims could reach US$85 billion.

Trump was accused last weekend of giving short shrift to Puerto Rico's recovery while focusing on the National Football League players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem at games.

This weekend, his critics derided his golfing once again.

The creator of Broadway hit "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico, took Trump to task on Twitter over his attack on Cruz: "She has been working 24/7. You have been GOLFING. You're going straight to hell."

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