As Puerto Ricans were stockpiling their few remaining resources on Wednesday, with some resorting to drinking water from streams according to news reports, President Donald Trump faced mounting criticism of his response—or lack thereof—to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria's direct hit to the island territory last week.
Critics have warned that the crisis is likely to become for Trump the same kind of display of incompetence and mismanagement that Hurricane Katrina was for President George W. Bush in 2005.
As journalist Tim Dickinson wrote for Rolling Stone on Tuesday, "George W. Bush ate cake while New Orleans drowned—now Trump is making him seem statesmanlike by comparison."
Trump didn't make a public statement about the situation in Puerto Rico until Monday, when, as if in explanation of his silence, he tweeted that the island has "billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with," and said that food and water are being delivered. Trump is not expected to visit the island until next week.
Seven days after the storm, nearly all of the island's 3.4 citizens are still without electricity, leading many to spend hours in lines every day waiting for fuel. Ninety percent of cell phone towers are down, leaving Puerto Ricans cut off from one another and the rest of the world, while 44 percent of residents are without drinking water.
Officials on the island have denounced the federal government for hamstringing many of the efforts of workers, with its lack of understanding of Puerto Rico's dire situation. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz spoke bluntly with CBS about the slow response of the federal government, noting that a week after the storm, much of the work being done is still assessment of the damage rather than actual relief work.
"Every moment we spend planning in a meeting, or every moment we spend just not getting the help we're supposed to get, people are starting to die already," Cruz said. "Boots are on the ground, help is here, I have doctors from HHS that wanted to help, eager to help, ready to help, but they didn't get any marching orders. Somebody has to structure the logistics of the aid getting in...We need to get our shit together. I don't know how else to scream, and shout, and say it. This is the time for action."
The Trump administration's refusal on Tuesday to waive the Jones Act is adding to fears that sufficient aid won't reach Puerto Ricans as quickly as it needs to. The Jones Act mandates that any cargo shipments between two U.S. ports must be carried out by American ships rather than foreign vessels, to avoid tax penalties. The law was suspended following the destruction of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the U.S. mainland, but the Trump administration declined to do the same for Puerto Rico, saying the territory's ports are too damaged to handle shipments.
The decision to keep the Jones Act in place was heavily criticized on social media on Tuesday.
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When Harvey hit Texas: Jones Act waived.— Andrew Thaler (@DrAndrewThaler) September 26, 2017
When Irma hit Florida: Jones Act waived.
When Maria hit Puerto Rico: https://t.co/EeDGnaVQAw
Jones Act was suspended during Katrina, Sandy, Harvey & Irma. Why not for Puerto Rico? This is an outdated law that has hurt Puerto Rico.— denise johnson (@spearsjohnson) September 27, 2017