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As President Trump Travels to Puerto Rico, Blumenthal Presses Administration Officials on Inadequacies of the Federal Response to Hurricane Maria

Blumenthal: Situation in Puerto Rico is “unacceptable”

[WASHINGTON, DC] – As President Trump traveled to Puerto Rico today to assess the damage of Hurricane Maria, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) highlighted the inadequacies of the federal government’s response to the devastation of the hurricane. Yesterday, Blumenthal toured the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and received a briefing from Administration officials. Nearly two weeks after Maria made landfall, 95% of the island remains without power, 55% of the island does not have access to drinking water, only 11% of the island’s cell towers are functioning, and just half of Puerto Rico’s major roads are passable.

Today at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Blumenthal questioned Secretary of Defense General James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford on ongoing efforts to aid Puerto Rico. Video of Blumenthal’s line of questioning is available for download here.  

“I was impressed by how inadequate and anemic the response has been, and the lack of a plan or strategy to do better,” said Blumenthal after the visit. “Despite all the numbers and the rosy picture painted by representatives at this meeting, the fact is only 5% of the island has power, only 45% has access to drinking water, only 11% of the cell towers are functioning, only 50% of the island’s major roads are passable. This situation – almost two weeks after Maria – is absolutely unacceptable.”

Blumenthal continued, “The President ought to be demanding tomorrow when he visits Puerto Rico, what is the plan, what is the timetable for doing better and doing more? There seems to be a double standard for relief: one for the mainland, and the other for Puerto Rico. But it’s fellow Americans who are suffering there and there is a disconnect between the picture that is painted in these briefings and public statements and the actual needs of people that are unmet. There is a disconnect between the supplies that are in the port – food, medicine, water desperately needed – and the people in cities and the interior should be receiving them.”

“I want to thank all of the first responders, including everybody who works at FEMA and all of the agencies, including our military and especially our National Guard who are there from Connecticut and elsewhere. They are putting themselves in hardship and at risk in helping people there. What’s needed is more of those same people. Instead of 5,000 of our military men and women there ought to be 50,000. Instead of 50 helicopters, there should be 300 or more. And instead of one of the ships – the USS Comfort – there ought to be multiple sources of medical care for people there,” said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal was joined by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and U.S Representative Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) on the tour. During the visit, the Members were briefed by top Trump Administration officials, including:

  • Claire M. Grady, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Dan Kaniewski, FEMA, Acting Deputy Administrator
  • Robert Salesses, Department of Defense (DoD), Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA)
  • Pat Hoffman, Department of Energy (DOE), Acting Assistant Secretary for Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
  • Chris Meekins, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Senior Advisor & Acting Chief Operating Officer
  • Harvey Johnson, Administrative Resource Center (ARC), Senior Vice President of Disaster Cycle Services
  • Vice Admiral Charles Ray, United States Coast Guard (USCG), Deputy Commandant for Operations
  • Major General Ed Jackson, US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Deputy Commanding General, Civil and Emergency Operations