Trump said during a speech in Indiana to sell his tax plan that “our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” which were devastated by Hurricane Maria. He said federal agencies are working closely with local partners and massive amounts of food, water and supplies are being delivered on a daily basis.
Desperation in Puerto Rico is growing in the wake of Maria and the humanitarian crisis could get worse if more emergency supplies are not distributed soon.
Puerto Rican officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month after the grid was destroyed by Maria’s Category 4 hurricane winds last week. More than 3 million of the island’s U.S. citizens still lack adequate food, water and fuel.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born in San Juan, recently returned from Puerto Rico, where she went with a contingent of first responders and volunteers.
“To call what’s happening in Puerto Rico a humanitarian crisis is a severe understatement,” she said, describing buried roadways and hospitals without electricity. “There’s a lot of work, this is Sandy 100 times over, and it’s overwhelming.”
The speaker was overcome with emotion as she talked about leaving her mother, who stayed on the island with friends in an apartment building.
“She is an incredibly strong woman and she tells me every day not to worry about her, but the level of desperation is getting there,” Mark-Viverito said. “She stood five hours on line the other day to get gasoline, you have to wait in line possibly to get to the bank and if there’s no money what do you do? People get desperate and people get upset and people get frustrated.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has organized an aid package including 34,000 bottles of water, more than 10,000 meals ready to eat, 1,400 cots, and four Black Hawk search-and-rescue helicopters. The state is also sending military police, 60 new National Guard troops, engineers with road building equipment and truck drivers.
“The helicopters will be helpful in accessing the remote areas of the island,” he said Wednesday.
Cuomo also touched on the president’s recent comments about the NFL and the National Anthem, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
“Patriotism, to me, is being there for Americans when Americans need help,” he said.
More than 100 New York City firefighters, police officers and other workers are in Puerto Rico to help, and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio is expecting an influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing the storm’s damage.
New York’s ties to the U.S. island territory are strong: New York state has the nation’s biggest Puerto Rican community outside the island itself.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said he has food and water sitting at the port and ready to go, but said they’re desperate for drivers. He said they’re literally asking anyone — bus drivers, commercial truck drivers — anyone who can drive the truck legally.
“If you are a bus driver and have equipment, just come to where the diesel is being dispensed, come where the food is being dispensed in the ports,” he said. “We are making every effort to make sure everybody knows this.”
Trump agreed Tuesday to waive the usual requirement that state governments pay a fourth of the cost of disaster aid, since Maria hit a U.S. territory already mired in financial crisis.
Rossello said he’s “confident the president understands the magnitude of the situation.”
Federal agencies also announced how they’re helping.
The Federal Highway Administration is assessing road damage to facilitate federal money to fix them. The TS Kennedy, a former commercial freighter used by the Maritime Administration for training, is moving from Texas to support the recovery in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Federal Transit Administration is helping restore ferry service, which has been available only during daylight hours to transport emergency supplies to Vieques and Culebra.
And the Federal Aviation Administration’s reservation system has facilitated nearly 100 daily arrivals and departures at San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, including military and relief operations and more than a dozen commercial passenger flights.
The Trump administration is also sending more military personnel and ships to Puerto Rico to help with the growing crisis, including a Navy hospital ship.
Military aircraft are dropping food and water to areas of the island still isolated and unable to receive help by road.
Trump will be traveling to the island Tuesday to meet with first responders and people affected by the storm.
He says, “We are with you now” and “we will be there every step of the way until this job is done.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)