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Trump defends response to Puerto Rico disaster as he plans visit to island

Trump has come under fire for tweeting repeatedly over the weekend about American football players kneeling during the national anthem while failing to mention Puerto Rico.

Nestor Serrano walks on the upstairs floor of his home, where the walls were blown off in Puerto Rico.
Nestor Serrano walks on the upstairs floor of his home, where the walls were blown off in Puerto Rico.
Image: Gerald Herbert/AP

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump has defended the government relief response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and promised to visit the island next week.

Trump also said that he would travel to the US Virgin Islands, another American territory in the Caribbean that was slammed by a pair of powerful storms.

“Both have been devastated, and I mean absolutely devastated,” the president told reporters.

“Puerto Rico got hit by two hurricanes… And they were among biggest we’ve ever seen.”

Relief efforts were complicated by the fact that it is an island, which now faces a “long and very, very difficult restoration process,” Trump said.

Before Maria struck last week, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were also hit by Hurricane Irma — which killed at least 112 people, 72 of whom were in Florida, according to an updated death toll released yesterday.

Rejecting accusations Puerto Rico has not received the same level of assistance as storm-hit US states Florida and Texas, Trump said a “massive relief effort is underway”.

Trump said he had ordered all relevant agencies and the military to do “everything in their power” to help residents of Puerto Rico.

“We are unloading on an hourly basis massive loads of water and food and supplies for Puerto Rico,” the president said, adding that he would visit there on Tuesday.

US officials said 16 ships – US Coast Guard and US Navy vessels – were taking part in the relief effort, bringing generators, food and water.

The USNS Comfort, a 1,000-bed hospital ship based in Virginia, was also headed for Puerto Rico.

‘Life or death’

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria People walk by buidling that was destroyed in the community La Perla in Old San Juan during Hurricane Maria. Source: Carlos Giusti

Most of the 3.4 million people in the overwhelmingly Hispanic US territory in the Caribbean are without running water, electricity and communications following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Food, water and fuel are scarce, leading Puerto Rican officials and residents to issue increasingly desperate appeals for help.

“It’s life or death,” said Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of the capital San Juan.

“People are really dying,” the mayor of the city of nearly 400,000 people told CBS News. “There are people who have had no food and no water for 14 days.”

Trump has come under fire for tweeting repeatedly over the weekend about American football players kneeling during the national anthem while failing to mention Puerto Rico.

© – AFP, 2017

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