WASHINGTON – Puerto Rico relief efforts continue despite President Donald Trump’s tweet Thursday suggesting he was considering cutting aid there.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” the president tweeted Thursday.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders clarified the president’s comments later Thursday morning, stating that “our job in any disaster affected location is to help the community respond and recover from that disaster. We continue to do so with the full force of the U.S. government and its resources in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and other affected areas.”
Sanders emphasized however that “successful recoveries do not last forever; they should be as swift as possible to help people resume their normal lives. We are committed to helping Puerto Rico. Our Administration is working with Governor Rossello and Congress to identify the best fiscally responsible path forward.”
As of Oct. 12, only 10 percent of Puerto Rico - which is a U.S. territory whose residents are American citizens - had power restored, a revision downward from the military’s previous estimate of 16 percent.
About 64 percent of the island had drinking water and cell phone service, according to U.S. Northern Command.
Approximately 13,600 U.S. troops, the Navy hospital ship Comfort, 19 fixed-wing aircraft and 88 rotary wing aircraft are involved in the relief effort.
National Guard spokesman Col. Les Melnyk said the Guard’s relief efforts there continue. ;
“I am not personally aware of any near-term plans for the National Guard to reduce support for Puerto Rico,” Melnyk said, however he deferred to the Pentagon.
A Federal Emergency Management Agency official told Military Times on the condition of not being identified that the agency has continued to be involved in other areas impacted by hurricanes many years after the storms.
Twelve years later, FEMA is still actively engaged in 2005 Hurricane Katrina needs in New Orleans and continues to work Hurricane Sandy-related issues from the 2012 storm’s destruction in New York and New Jersey, the official said. ;
In an official statement, the agency repeated Sander’s statement that “successful recoveries do not last forever.” However the agency vowed it will continue to help Puerto Rico. ;
“FEMA will be with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and each state or territory impacted by a disaster every day, supporting throughout their response and recovery process,” the agency said in an official statement, ;
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20 with 155 mph winds that downed the island’s entire power grid and most of its telecommunications capabilities.
In the three weeks since, U.S. National Guard troops, including members of the Puerto Rico National Guard, active duty U.S. military, FEMA staff, other federal agencies and humanitarian groups have been on the ground to help Puerto Rico regain footing.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.