Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Puerto Rico angry at US official’s ‘good news’ remark


A house destroyed by Hurricane Maria is pictured in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump pledged to help Puerto Ricans recover basic necessities and security in Hurricane Maria’s ruinous aftermath as his acting homeland security chief tried to escape a tempest of her own making, set off when she called Washington’s response to the hurricane a “good-news story.”

US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke drew a sharp rebuke from San Juan’s mayor for seeming to play down the suffering.

“When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good-news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN on Friday. “Damn it, this is not a good-news story. This is a people-are-dying story.”

For his part, Trump said Puerto Rico is “totally unable” to handle the catastrophe on its own.

“They are working so hard, but there’s nothing left,” Trump said. “It’s been wiped out.”

The US government is “fully engaged in the disaster and the response and recovery effort,” he said.

Trump said he was not aware of Duke’s remark.

“I haven’t heard what she said,” he told reporters. “I can tell you this: We have done an incredible job considering there’s absolutely nothing to work with.”

Yet even in voicing solidarity and sympathy with Puerto Rico, he drew attention again to the island’s pre-hurricane debt burden and infrastructure woes, leaving doubt how far Washington will go to make the US territory whole.

“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — it will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said. “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”

Earlier he tweeted: “The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”

Duke visited the island on Friday, surveying the ravaged landscape by helicopter in an hour-long tour, and driving from the airport past flooded streets, twisted billboards and roofs with gaping holes.

She met local officials and US personnel on the ground, and tried to move on from remarks that stunned people in Puerto Rico a day earlier.

Speaking to the press, and taking no questions, she said neither she nor Trump will rest until displaced Puerto Ricans are back home, schools, hospitals and clean water are back and the island’s economy is moving again.

Duke said she is aware that people are suffering and “clearly the situation in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory.”

Trump weighed in on his way to New Jersey for the weekend.

He praised his emergency management director, Brock Long, for doing a “fantastic job” and said Duke “is acting, and she’s working very hard.”

During this season’s trio of monster hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — Trump and his administration have drifted into the perilous territory of premature self-congratulation in the face of unfolding catastrophe, seemingly unmindful of the “Brownie moment” that scarred former US president George W. Bush’s presidency.

Bush told his emergency management director, Michael Brown, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” during what proved to be a tragically inept response to deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Trump has repeatedly boasted about the positive reviews he said his administration is getting from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands for its relief effort, even as people in remote towns struggle to find food, water and other basics.

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