Trump increases aid for hurricane-hit Puerto Rico ahead of visit
Mr Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery operations.
President Donald Trump is sending “America’s hearts and prayers” to people in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and says he will visit both places ravaged by Hurricane Maria next week.
He said a “massive” effort to help people recover from the hurricane is under way and pledged that the federal government will pick up 100% of the bill for removing the debris left in the wake of Maria.
The president made the change to funding as part of an amendment to his earlier disaster declaration authorising federal aid in response to the Category 4 storm.
US states and territories typically cover 25% of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75%.
Puerto Rican officials and sympathetic members of Congress had called on Mr Trump to relieve the island’s cash-strapped government of the cost-sharing requirement.
His declaration covers costs for removing downed trees, utility poles and other debris, as well as spending for emergency protective measures taken to save lives, protect public health and ensure public safety.
Trump has come under criticism that his administration responded too slowly to the growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, where Maria knocked out power to virtually the entire island.
Mr Trump announced the visit after the administration came under criticism for its response to the damage on the island that is home to more than three million US citizens.
The island has been coping with shortages of food, drinking water, electricity and various forms of communication after Hurricane Maria struck earlier this month.
Mr Trump said Puerto Rico is important to him.
He said Puerto Ricans are “great people and we need to help them”.
Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello said he has spoken “as recently as last night” to Mr Trump about the crisis.
He said he was “confident the president understands the magnitude of the situation”.
Mr Rossello said he would be speaking with Mr Trump later on Tuesday to discuss “a long-term recovery package for Puerto Rico to be presented to Congress”, apparently next week.
A flotilla of ships and thousands more military personnel are being sent to Puerto Rico, the Trump administration announced.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said the devastation wrought by the storm presents unique logistical challenges for the federal response. He said demolished airports and seaports have made it difficult to get aid and personnel to the stricken island.
Mr Long said 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships are now in the waters around Puerto Rico, with another 10 ships on the way. They include the USS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. Planes and ships are also bringing in a military force to help distribute aid.
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