US President Donald Trump has defended his administration's handling of Puerto Rico's hurricane disaster. While voicing solidarity, Trump also made reference to the US territory's debt and infrastructure crises.
Thousands of Puerto Ricans were finally getting water and food rations on Friday as military trucks with water bottles and other supplies began to reach various parts of the island. However, most of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents faced their 10th day without power.
Aid was being distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The electrical grid and other infrastructure were already in very, very poor shape. They were at their life's end prior to the hurricanes," US President Donald Trump told reporters. "And now virtually everything has been wiped out, and we will have to really start all over again," he added. "We're literally starting from scratch."
Trump also took to Twitter to praise his administration's disaster response, while at the same time leaving doubt as to how far Washington would go to support the territory.
"Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort ... will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island," Trump said. "We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe."
Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island and more than 30 across the Caribbean. It had followed another devastating storm, hurricane Irma.
'Good news story' remarks criticized
Trump's administration has come under pressure for what critics said was a slow federal aid response to Puerto Rico, compared with other hurricane-hit areas on the US mainland during a season of exceptionally powerful storms.
Visiting the territory's capital, San Juan, on Friday, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke sought to clarify comments she'd made Thursday about aid reaching the island being a "good news story." Her words drew sharp rebuke from San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz.
"When you don't have food for a baby, it's not a good news story," Cruz told the broadcaster CNN on Friday. "Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people-are-dying story."
In San Juan, Duke said she was proud of the recovery work being done but she and Trump wouldn't be satisfied until the island was fully functional.
"Clearly, the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory, but together we are getting there and the progress today is very strong," Duke said.
Trump is expected to travel to Puerto Rico to survey the damage and emergency response on Tuesday. On Saturday, however, as the island's slow recovery continues with little help from outside, he saw fit to criticize local officials on Twitter once more.
se/kl (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)