People waiting line to buy gas are seen in Rio Hondo, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017. 
Puerto Rico battled dangerous floods Friday after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as rescuers raced against time to reach residents trapped in their homes and the death toll climbed to 33. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria the most devastating storm in a century after it destroyed the US territory's electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.
 / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL        (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
People waiting line to buy gas are seen in Rio Hondo, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017. Puerto Rico battled dangerous floods Friday after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as rescuers raced against time to reach residents trapped in their homes and the death toll climbed to 33. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria the most devastating storm in a century after it destroyed the US territory's electricity and telecommunications infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:26
Mayor: Dammit, this is not a 'good news story'
Stacks upon stacks of bottled water sit near a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, on September 12, 2018.
Julian Quiñones/CNN
Stacks upon stacks of bottled water sit near a runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, on September 12, 2018.
Now playing
02:42
See untouched water bottles in Puerto Rico
SAN ISIDRO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 15:  Uncollected debris stand near damaged homes in an area without electricity on October 15, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is suffering shortages of food and water in many areas and only 15 percent of grid electricity has been restored. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images South America/Getty Images
SAN ISIDRO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 15: Uncollected debris stand near damaged homes in an area without electricity on October 15, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is suffering shortages of food and water in many areas and only 15 percent of grid electricity has been restored. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:39
Puerto Rico revises Hurricane Maria death toll
title:  duration: 00:00:00 site:  author:  published:  intervention: yes description: Radio Isla had access to vans that contained water, food, medicine and hundreds of open boxes, many of them with reptile waste and in a state of decomposition. According to sources, the supplies were for the victims of the hurricanes.
Radio Isla
title: duration: 00:00:00 site: author: published: intervention: yes description: Radio Isla had access to vans that contained water, food, medicine and hundreds of open boxes, many of them with reptile waste and in a state of decomposition. According to sources, the supplies were for the victims of the hurricanes.
Now playing
01:24
Supplies sent to Puerto Rico found abandoned
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 20:  A resident, whose home remains without electricity, watches as debris is removed on December 20, 2017 in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Barely three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, approximately one-third of the devastated island is still without electricity and 14 percent lack running water. While the official death toll from the massive storm remains at 64, The New York Times recently reported the actual toll for the storm and its aftermath likely stands at more than 1,000. Puerto Rico's governor has ordered a review and recount as the holiday season approaches.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images/File
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 20: A resident, whose home remains without electricity, watches as debris is removed on December 20, 2017 in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Barely three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, approximately one-third of the devastated island is still without electricity and 14 percent lack running water. While the official death toll from the massive storm remains at 64, The New York Times recently reported the actual toll for the storm and its aftermath likely stands at more than 1,000. Puerto Rico's governor has ordered a review and recount as the holiday season approaches. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:47
Possible epidemic in Puerto Rico after Maria hit
CNN
Now playing
02:04
Suspected deadly bacteria cases in Puerto Rico (2017)
With hurricane season starting June 1, CNN returns to Puerto Rico to see if the island is ready for another storm. Nine months after Maria, 20,000 homes are still without power- and going into the season, many mayors are worried that even a small storm will plunge them back into darkness and repeat the crisis all over again. We witness desperate Puerto Ricans illegally and dangerously turning on their own power, and press officials for answers on what will change this time around.
CNN
With hurricane season starting June 1, CNN returns to Puerto Rico to see if the island is ready for another storm. Nine months after Maria, 20,000 homes are still without power- and going into the season, many mayors are worried that even a small storm will plunge them back into darkness and repeat the crisis all over again. We witness desperate Puerto Ricans illegally and dangerously turning on their own power, and press officials for answers on what will change this time around.
Now playing
01:05
Questions surround Hurricane Maria death toll
Guest: Mayor Carmen Cruz from San Juan, PR (Facetime) Anderson in Studio 73 / Control 71 (channel 67)   Please record CTL 7100 Switched Please record CTL 7103 Clean Switched Please record CTL 7138 AC ISO Please record CTL 7139 Splits Please record CTL 7140 Big Smalls Please record GFX 905 Cruz ISO
CNN
Guest: Mayor Carmen Cruz from San Juan, PR (Facetime) Anderson in Studio 73 / Control 71 (channel 67) Please record CTL 7100 Switched Please record CTL 7103 Clean Switched Please record CTL 7138 AC ISO Please record CTL 7139 Splits Please record CTL 7140 Big Smalls Please record GFX 905 Cruz ISO
Now playing
01:59
San Juan mayor: Trump showed terrible neglect
CNN
Now playing
01:58
CNN anchor presses PR governor on death count
SAN ISIDRO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 05:  Kids bike in an area without grid power or running water about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images
SAN ISIDRO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 05: Kids bike in an area without grid power or running water about two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:36
Puerto Ricans repair power lines themselves
ricardo rossello
CNN
ricardo rossello
Now playing
02:13
Rossello: Hell to pay if data not available
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 20:  A resident, whose home remains without electricity, watches as debris is removed on December 20, 2017 in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Barely three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, approximately one-third of the devastated island is still without electricity and 14 percent lack running water. While the official death toll from the massive storm remains at 64, The New York Times recently reported the actual toll for the storm and its aftermath likely stands at more than 1,000. Puerto Rico's governor has ordered a review and recount as the holiday season approaches.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images/File
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO - DECEMBER 20: A resident, whose home remains without electricity, watches as debris is removed on December 20, 2017 in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Barely three months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, approximately one-third of the devastated island is still without electricity and 14 percent lack running water. While the official death toll from the massive storm remains at 64, The New York Times recently reported the actual toll for the storm and its aftermath likely stands at more than 1,000. Puerto Rico's governor has ordered a review and recount as the holiday season approaches. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:20
Study: Puerto Rico hurricane death toll near 5,000
A Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority brigade work in a remote off-road location to repair a downed power transmission line in Ponce, Puerto Rico on November 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO / TO GO WITH AFP STORY By Leila MACOR, US-PuertoRico-power-weather-reconstruction-hurricane        (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
A Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority brigade work in a remote off-road location to repair a downed power transmission line in Ponce, Puerto Rico on November 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO / TO GO WITH AFP STORY By Leila MACOR, US-PuertoRico-power-weather-reconstruction-hurricane (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:20
Puerto Rico suffers island-wide power outage
Blue tarps are still the only roofs for some homes in Corozal.
Leyla Santiago/CNN
Blue tarps are still the only roofs for some homes in Corozal.
Now playing
02:46
Puerto Rico 6 months after Hurricane Maria
CNN
Now playing
03:47
Deaths in PR still attributed to Maria
CNN
Now playing
03:45
Hurricane Maria evacuees living in FL motels

Story highlights

Assessments differ on hospitals and whether they are 'fully operational'

The White House says aid and cash are 'on site,' but they are slow to reach residents

(CNN) —  

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke faced harsh backlash after saying the Trump administration’s recovery effort in Puerto Rico is a “good news story.”

“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded. “This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”

Since Hurricane Maria slammed into the US territory as a Category 4 hurricane earlier this month, much of the island has been devastated – leaving millions of Americans without electricity and water, and limited access to gas and other vital supplies.

Duke’s comments weren’t the first time the White House’s statements about the recovery effort contradicted ground reports. This week, federal officials and locals clashed on such issues as medical care facilities, aid shipments and the availability of cash.

Critics say the White House has been slow to respond and is portraying the situation in Puerto Rico as better than it really is. Here’s a snapshot of what the White House is saying compared to what people there are seeing and experiencing.

Hospitals and nursing homes

White House: In Puerto Rico, 44 of 69 hospitals were “fully operational” as of Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

By Thursday night, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said that 51 hospitals had met the standard of being able to “see, treat and admit” patients.

However, he clarified that the three-pronged standard for hospitals included many using emergency diesel fuel, which he admitted was “not necessarily an ideal condition.”

Ground Reports: Because power and communication lines still remain out for much of the island, hospitals rely on diesel fuel – already in short supply – and have trouble contacting and coordinating patient care.

CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta saw those hospitals’ struggles firsthand. At a shelter an hour outside of San Juan, a woman named Josefina Alvarez, who suffers from diabetes, was in a dire situation. She had an infection and no insulin, water or food.

No ambulance could take her to a hospital, so Gupta and his team volunteered to drive her to a nearby clinic.

03:58 - Source: CNN
Fear of health crisis in Puerto Rico grows

“There are probably thousands of patients who are in similar shelters with no power, no water, no medications, no way out. There are probably thousands more who are still in their homes and haven’t even been able to get to a shelter,” he said. “She’s just one example of what’s happening here.”

Speaking on CNN’s The Situation Room on Thursday, Gupta said that many hospitals listed as operational had no satellite phones, no access to medications, and were unable to admit patients.

“We’re seeing diesel fuel being promised for a few hours at a time as opposed to anything that’s going to be more sustainable for them. And as you might imagine, it’s very hard to run a hospital that way,” he said. “It’s hard to take care of patients if you say, ‘Look, we have six hours of fuel left. We’re not sure if we’ll get more fuel after that.’”

Because available diesel fuel was prioritized for hospitals, nursing homes had major issues as well, Mayor Cruz said.

People waiting in line to buy gas are seen in Rio Hondo, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017.
HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
People waiting in line to buy gas are seen in Rio Hondo, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017.

“Most of our nursing homes have people that have an inability to move, so they’re stuck in the 14th floor, they have no water, they have no food, they – most of them are insulin-dependent,” she said.

Insulin-dependent patients are “going crazy for ice” to keep their medical supplies cold, Cruz said, while other patients haven’t had their scheduled dialysis or chemotherapy in days.

Delivering food and water

White House: President Donald Trump has tweeted several times over the past few days that food and water are “on way,” “on site” or “delivered” to Puerto Rico.

The Federal Aviation Administration supported the restoration of services to all eight commercial airports in Puerto Rico, FEMA said on Friday. In addition, five of six FEMA-priority seaports are open or open with restrictions, the Department of Defense said Thursday.

Ground Reports: Initially, FEMA was limited in its ability to deliver aid because of closed or damaged ports.

“We were limited by a damaged air traffic control system, we were limited by airports that weren’t operational,” FEMA administrator Brock Long said Thursday. “We were limited by ports that weren’t operational. Now as those are coming back up, we are increasing capacity.”

In recent days, food, water and other supplies have reached the ports. But because of damaged infrastructure – impassable roads, non-operational seaports and airports, and a lack of communication lines – getting those supplies to people in need has proved much more difficult.

“We’re getting commodities to Puerto Rico,” said Long. “The question is, how do we get it to the last mile?”

00:44 - Source: CNN
Mountain of vital supplies stuck in San Juan

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said delivering aid from ports to communities is the main problem officials are facing.

“They have got to get that aid moving to the right places. To do that, you need to restore roads, a bare minimum of power, you need a bare minimum of communication. You need a logistical chain,” Rubio said.

“There’s a lot of food coming in, a lot of water, a lot of medical assistance. But if that medical assistance is sitting at the port, it’s theoretically in Puerto Rico, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to get it from the port to the people who need it. And that’s the problem.”

Delivering aid to some areas will be more difficult than to others. In San Lorenzo, a 45-minute-drive from San Juan, a bridge over a rushing river was destroyed by flash floods. Now residents cross the waters while holding onto a scavenged cable.

In San Lorenzo, a bridge destroyed  by flash floods has been replaced for now by a cable.
CNN
In San Lorenzo, a bridge destroyed by flash floods has been replaced for now by a cable.

John Rabin, acting regional administrator of FEMA Region II, said the agency has established 11 distribution points at various parts of the island. They have delivered around 1.1 million liters of water and almost a million meals.

Mayor Cruz, of San Juan, said these distribution centers “need to be much closer and need to provide a lot more.”

She drove 30 miles from San Juan to a distribution center to pick up three pallets of water and food.

“Wouldn’t it be more logical in terms of logistical support to get 21 pallets of water and 21 pallets of food, whatever you’re going to give me, give me for a week’s worth?” she said.

Making cash available

White House: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the federal government was acting quickly to meet Puerto Rico’s cash shortage. “For the last two days, we’ve been very involved in figuring out how we can get major amounts of cash to Puerto Rico. I can tell you we made two giant cash shipments,” Mnuchin said.

Ground Reports: With electricity still widely out, many merchants are not accepting credit cards, making a cash infusion increasingly necessary for residents who need to purchase food, medicine, gas and other supplies.

At least half of the bank branches in Puerto Rico are still not open, according to the Association of Banks of Puerto Rico. Stand-alone ATMs – from the airport to wealthy neighborhoods – are out of cash.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Friday that 90 bank branches are now open throughout the island, though CNN reports they are operating under severe restrictions.

03:42 - Source: CNN
Puerto Rico Governor: 'We are out of cash'

Many people are waiting in lines for hours to access ATMs with no guarantee they’ll be able to withdraw cash.

Tom Tarbox waited an hour in line at an ATM near the beach in San Juan on Wednesday in sweltering heat. The line stretched around the FirstBank. Customers used umbrellas to shield themselves from the beating sun. It wasn’t even his bank, but it had cash and that’s all that mattered.

Tarbox, a retiree from Connecticut who has lived in San Juan for 20 years, said he was worried most about running out of diesel fuel for his generator. The long queues for food, gas and cash convince him that the federal government’s response has been too little, too late.

“The feeling is that the response of the administration has been too slow in getting equipment and things down here, including cash,” Tarbox said, with another 15 people in line ahead of him. “There is sort of a hoarding, panic mentality.”

CNN’s Rafael Romo, Patrick Gillespie and Boris Sanchez contributed to this report.