Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Mountains of aid have been piling up in recent days at San Juan's ports. Critics say an earlier deployment of federal resources by the White House would have kept aid flowing to Hurricane Maria survivors once it arrived. (Photo: @NationalPost/Twitter)

Trump Slammed for Slow Maria Response As Aid Piles Up on San Juan's Docks

Retired general who oversaw Katrina recovery says Trump should have deployed resources more quickly

Julia Conley

As the humanitarian situation remains dire in Puerto Rico, thousands of shipping containers on docks in San Juan are offering a visual representation of the widespread mismanagement of recovery efforts by the Trump administration following Hurricane Maria's destruction.

Though President Trump finally agreed to waive the Jones Act on Thursday in order to allow ships to bring more food, water, and fuel to the island, the long-awaited decision may not be immediately helpful to residents—as the lack of aid getting to survivors appears to be due to logistical blunders in addition to bureaucratic decision-making.

About 9,000 20-foot containers have arrived at a maritime terminal in San Juan in the past few days, following the storm's landfall on September 20. A lack of vehicles and drivers has made it impossible to distribute the aid. With blocked roads, a fuel shortage, and cell phone towers down across the commonwealth, the thousands of federal workers who have arrived on the island and the Puerto Rican government has been unable to create an efficient delivery system.

"It's kind of like Katrina: We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry. This is a hit on White House decision making."—Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honore

While the severity of the storm combined with Puerto Rico's aged, fragile infrastructure are part of what led to the especially challenging recovery effort, critics have said President Trump's lackluster and delayed responses to the disaster have led to a slow mobilization of federal resources which could have avoided the logjam in San Juan's ports.

Retired lieutenant general Russel Honore, who was called in to manage recovery efforts in New Orleans after days of inaction by the Bush administration following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg that the federal government should have sent relief workers and aid ahead of the storm.

Honore said the U.S. military, particularly the Northern Command, should be deployed to Puerto Rico to oversee the recovery, which is currently being managed by thousands of federal workers including 600 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA):

Only the military has the ability to move supplies quickly onto the island as many ports remain closed, he said—what he called "expeditionary logistics," a mix of specialized ships, aircraft and other equipment that the National Guard can’t match. Before the storm hit, the federal government should have positioned more personnel in Puerto Rico, he said.

On Wednesday the Department of Defense announced that brigadier general Rich Kim was being sent to Puerto Rico to establish a command center aimed at getting aid efforts underway on land. The move comes after criticism from the mayor of San Juan that relief workers had "no marching orders" and were mainly assessing damage earlier in the week.

"It’s kind of like Katrina: We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry," said Honore told Bloomberg. "This is a hit on White House decision making."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK's True Legacy

Calling out those who have "weaponized" his words "to justify legislated white supremacy," Rep. Ayanna Pressley said King "was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change."

Jessica Corbett ·


'No Celebration Without Legislation': King Family Leads Voting Rights March

"I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream," said Martin Luther King III.

Andrea Germanos ·


Lawmakers Seek to Weaken Ban on Surprise Medical Bills

According to new reporting, the effort to rein in price-gouging is facing pushback from Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike.

Kenny Stancil ·


Billionaires 'Had a Terrific Pandemic' While Inequality Killed Millions: Oxfam

A new report explains how inequality contributed to the death of 21,000 people each day of the pandemic while the wealthiest collectively got $1.2 billion richer every 24 hours.

Jon Queally ·


Biden Urged to Fire Covid Response Chief Over 'Damning' Failures

"Zients has failed to provide the materials necessary to improve the U.S. response, or the guidance necessary to keep the pandemic under control," argued one critic.

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo