Puerto Rico governor: More needed, but feds have answered our calls

Updated 3:07 PM EDT, Sun October 1, 2017
00:53 - Source: CNN
Trump: Poor leadership by San Juan mayor

Story highlights

NEW: San Juan's mayor says she has no time for "small politics" with President Trump

NEW: Several hundred residents near a dam ordered to leave

(CNN) —  

Much more work must be done to meet Puerto Rico’s critical humanitarian needs after Hurricane Maria, the US territory’s top official said Saturday, while also emphasizing that the federal government is fulfilling his every request – striking a conciliatory tone minutes after President Donald Trump lambasted a mayor who criticized Washington’s response.

“We need to do a lot more in order for us to get out of the emergency,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in San Juan. “But the other thing that’s also true is that the administration has answered and has complied with our petitions in an expedited manner.”

Eleven days after Hurricane Maria began to pound Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, millions in the US commonwealth remain without regular electricity service, and many have limited access to gas, cash and running water. At least 16 people died there as a result of the storm, the government has said.

Earlier Saturday, Trump – who plans to visit the island Tuesday – used Twitter to criticize San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and the “leadership ability” of some in Puerto Rico who “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” Yulín Cruz earlier had criticized the distribution of aid and said the feds needed to do more.

Rosselló, while updating reporters on recovery efforts, trod carefully on the back-and-forth.

“I don’t feel that (Trump’s) message was sent in general,” Rosselló said. “I am committed to collaborating with everybody. This is a point where we can’t look at small differences. We can’t establish differences based on politics.”

Rosselló acknowledged many of the island’s 3.4 million citizens could leave for good, and more people could die, if conditions don’t improve soon.

With most of the power transmission grid destroyed, more than 95% of customers are without regular electricity service. Only 10.7% of the island’s cell phone towers are working. People are waiting for hours in line at gas stations and thinly supplied grocery stores. Some communities are isolated by phone outages and blocked and damaged roads.

“My invitation … is to recognize what the important issue is: helping the people of Puerto Rico. Everything else is fodder to the side,” he said.

Rain is aggravating the situation and on Saturday night, authorities began to evacuate several hundred residents who live very close to a stressed dam in northwestern Puerto Rico.

Trump: Some leaders ‘want everything to be done for them’

Trump’s Twitter attack on Yulín Cruz came a day after she stepped up criticism of the federal response, saying aid wasn’t being distributed efficiently.

Wearing a black shirt that read, “Help Us, We Are Dying,” she appeared Friday night on CNN to say the situation was desperate.

“People are drinking out of creeks here in San Juan,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “You have people in buildings, and they’re becoming caged in their own buildings – old people, retired people that don’t have any electricity.”

“We’re dying here. We truly are dying here. I keep saying it: SOS. If anyone can hear us; Mr. Trump can hear us, let’s just get it over with and get the ball rolling,” she said.

Saturday morning, Trump responded.

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the President tweeted.

“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job,” his tweets read.

Yulín Cruz told Cooper on Saturday night that she is not a Democrat, though she shares some of their values.

“I have no time for small politics or for comments that don’t really add to the situation here,” she said.

Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN on Saturday that recovery efforts hinge on good communication and coordinated efforts.

“The bottom line is we’ve had a joint field office established for numerous days in San Juan and what we need is for the good mayor to make her way to the joint field office and get plugged into what’s going on,” he said when asked about the President’s tweets about Yulín Cruz.

Long said he was focused on getting aid sent to 11 FEMA distribution centers throughout the commonwealth and getting more set up.

Long said he will be in Puerto Rico for several days early next week.

Cruz told Cooper on Saturday that she works out of a building that has two FEMA envoys and she feels as though there is sufficient cooperation.

Cruz and her family are staying at the Coliseum in San Juan, along with more than 600 people. They’re sleeping in cots and eating the same food as everyone else after their house flooded.

Struggling for basics

For many in Puerto Rico, trying to get the basics, like fuel, has become a grueling, all-day affair.