Despite media and politicians, Trump is delivering aid to Puerto Rico

politics | Sep 27, 2017 | By Martin Barillas

While politicians and media criticized President Donald Trump over tweets he issued in the wake of Hurricane Maria concerning Puerto Rico, the president has mobilized a huge disaster relief response to the devastation wrought by the storm on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In a September 24 tweet, Hillary Clinton implored Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to send the Navy, including the  hospital ship USNS Comfort. Two days later, FEMA Director Brock Long announced that the Navy was indeed sending the hospital ship to Puerto Rico, where 3.5 million people are facing months without electricity and years-long rebuilding. 

However, Clinton’s tweet reflected a lack of context. Two amphibious ships, the USS Kearsarge and the USS Oak Hill were already in place so that thousands of Marines and sailors could be deployed. Marines, for example, joined relief efforts and are clearing roads, providing security, and otherwise contributing to an effort that involves several different federal agencies.

Praising the government’s efforts, Trump said on Tuesday that members of the administration were “doing a really good job.” In advance of a planned trip to Puerto Rico next week, Trump said, “It’s very tough because it’s an island,” adding, “In Texas, we can ship the trucks right out there. And you know, we’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico. But the difference is, this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. And it’s a big ocean; it’s a very big ocean.” Deflecting criticism of the military relief efforts, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told the media that the military is focused on search-and-rescue operations, while it is also delivering generators to hospitals. A flight of eight Black Hawk helicopters are coming from the Army’s base at Fort Campbell, Ky., Air Force jets are arriving with supplies, and disaster-assessment teams determining what else is needed. “This is a long-term effort,” Manning said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so [the Department of Defense] will continue to support them as long as support is needed.”

Spero News contacted the American Red Cross and Air National Guard Units in Texas and Florida. The Red Cross said that cannot accept in-kind donations at this time until civilian air operations are restored in Puerto Rico. Air National Guard units are focused on delivering high-priority aid, while also trying to restore the airport at San Juan.

The U.S. Coast Guard deployed 13 ships off Puerto Rico by Monday, working to fix ports and launch search-and-rescue missions.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello -- who was a delegate for Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party last year -- told PBS Newshour on Monday that he was grateful for the Trump administration’s response. When asked whether the island was getting the aid it needs, Rossello said, “First of all, we are very grateful for the administration. They have responded quickly. The president has been very attentive to the situation, personally calling me several times. FEMA and the FEMA director have been here in Puerto Rico twice. As a matter of fact, they were here with us today, making sure that all the resources in FEMA were working in conjunction with the central government.” He called on Congress to provide an aid package for Puerto Rico. Moreover, Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez -- Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to Washington -- said of the aid to the island, "This is the first time we get this type of federal coordination." said Resident Commission Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Washington.

FEMA is getting supported from the Defense Logistics Agency, the Army’s Northern Command, the Navy, and U.S. Coast Guard. CG. The port of San Juan was reopened by September 23. Since then, FEMA alone has sent more than 500 personnel, while thousands more personnel from other agencies are on the ground. There is coordination by the Pentagon with the private sector to deliver fuel to Puerto Rico. Besides the port of San Juan, the ports at Fajardo, Culebra, Guayanilla, Salinas, Tallaboa, and Vieques are now open for daylight operations. FEMA has provided  4 million meals, 6 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and 70,000 tarps and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria’s landfall. Additionally, 7 million meals and 4 million liters of water are en route by barge to the islands, with additional federal supplies and contract support coming.

A U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) mobile communications team arrived in Puerto Rico to help improve communications across the storm-impacted area, while Pentagon personnel are restoring communications and operations at the San Juan airport. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has deployed debris experts to assist FEMA with strategies in Puerto Rico, while the Corps has 86 generators on hand in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, with more than 186 additional generators en route. The Corps has 750 personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Coast Guard is operating nine cutters near Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, bringing helicopter search-and-rescue support, while an additional five flight deck-equipped cutters, five patrol boats, four rotary wing, and one fixed wing aircraft are moving to the vicinity. The National Guard has 2,300 Guard members on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands taking part in security and support operations. 

The Department of Energy is working with other agencies to facilitate fuel deliveries to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for generators at critical facilities and response efforts, and is also working with the Energy Information Administration to assess fuel supplies and the status of facilities in the region.The Secretary of Energy has authorized the release of up to 5.3 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and to date, more than 4.6 million barrels have been delivered to areas impacted by all three storms.

Power has been restored to Centro Médico Hospital in San Juan and San Pablo Hospital in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. The Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital in St. Croix and the Schneider Regional Medical Center in St. Thomas are re-energized and re-established as mobile hospitals.  Assessments are underway in Puerto Rico and U. S. Virgin Islands at critical facilities such as hospitals, water treatment facilities, airports, and community shelters. The government has coordinated transportation of more than 300 FEMA or Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) generators from across the U.S. to meet anticipated requirements in the islands. In Puerto Rico, the team completed 27 of 32 requested assessments of critical facilities. Six step-up DLA transformers are expected to arrive this week. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, deployed experts continue to meet with FEMA, territory representatives, and other agencies to assess power priorities. USACE completed 90 of 131 requested assessments of critical facilities and began generator installations.

As of Tuesday, the federal government has facilitated the delivery of American Red Cross supplies, including 5,000 of each the following items to support response efforts on the islands: comfort kits, blankets, and clean-up kits. Specifically for Puerto Rico, they are mobilizing 9,000 comfort kits, thousands of tarps, flashlights, batteries, blankets, and hand sanitizer. In addition, they are also preparing to send tens of thousands of bags of rice and beans. Also on their way are cots, blankets, comfort kits, tarps, trash bags, sponges, hand sanitizer, and insect repellent to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Corps of Engineers estimates that 30,000 roofs are damaged. Materials are scheduled to arrive this week in Puerto Rico. 
The National Guard is prioritizing the delivery of food and water to those in need, augmenting local law enforcement to ensure community safety, and engineer support to help rebuild essential infrastructure. The Guard is also working to improve island communications.  The Pentagon is providing rotary lift support to FEMA Urban Search and Rescue movements and commodities distribution across Puerto Rico.
The Department of Energy is working with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), FEMA, and private sector partners in damage assessments. They found significant damage to Puerto Rico’s already aging generation and distribution infrastructure. A team from the New York Power Authority is also assisting in those efforts.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported that the St. Thomas airport [U.S. Virgin Islands] is operational with restrictions. The San Juan tower is operational with the building, terminal radar, and frequencies on a generator. At San Juan Radar Approach and En Route Center, Grand Turk and Isla Grande long range radars are both back on, and the FAA is starting to get beacon-only data from Pico. Several radio en route frequencies from the El Yunque site were restored and remain active with everything being single string on generator power. The building is on a single generator with the parts for the second generator being flown in tonight or tomorrow. The full size backup generator is being loaded onto a modified Lockheed C-5 Galaxy today in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. As normal radar procedures are implemented later today, FAA is amending the slot program to an 18 per hour rate and could possibly go to a 36 per hour rate if everything holds. FAA coordinated closely with the airport authority, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and DoD about the increase.
Teams from the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps set up a base of operations with medical equipment and supplies adjacent to Centro Medico; an emergency and trauma center in San Juan, and are staffing the locations to assist the center and local hospitals that are seeing an overwhelming number of patients, or are short-staffed as the territory works to respond to and recover from the hurricanes. NDMS and USPHS teams are also providing care at temporary medical sites in St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to work closely with federal and local partners, and medical product companies with manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico to prevent shortages of medically necessary products, such as drugs and devices.
A team of public health and environmental health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also deployed to assist Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with assessments of shelters, water systems, and other environmental health needs.




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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