Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, who is overseeing the military response in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, said Friday morning that the Pentagon has 10,000 people helping with the response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands but will soon send more because it’s “not enough,” therefore contradicting the Trump administration’s claim that the response has been smooth.
“We’re certainly bringing in more [troops],” Buchanan said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“For example, on the military side, we’re bringing in both Air Force, Navy, and Army medical capabilities in addition to aircraft, more helicopters. . . . [but] it’s not enough, and we’re bringing more in.”
The Hill added:
The Pentagon has already allocated more than 4,000 troops to help in rescue and restoration efforts to the U.S. territories, but it wasn’t until Thursday, eight days after Maria slammed the Caribbean, that U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) sent Buchanan. The head of Northcom’s Joint Force Land Component Command is now serving as the Defense Department’s primary liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert defended the Trump administration’s delay in appointing Buchanan.
“It didn’t require a three-star general eight days ago,” Bossert said.
When asked whether it was a mistake to not have Buchanan on the ground in Puerto Rico earlier, Bossert replied, “No, not at all.”
“In fact, that doesn’t effect the way that we stage equipment and the way we area command and field operational command. This is textbook and it’s been done well,” Bossert added.
The Defense Department has been steadily increasing its help to the U.S. territories.
Puerto Ricans, however, are frustrated with the federal government’s response.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Friday urged Trump to ramp up the federal assistance, blasting acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke for referring to the government’s response as a “good news story.”
“Damnit, this is not a good news story,” Cruz said. “This is a people-are-dying story.”
The retired lieutenant general who was credited with turning around the government’s disastrous initial response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush, joined a growing chorus of criticism from Congress about the Trump administration’s bungled response to Hurricane Maria.
“It’s kind of like Katrina: We got it. We got it. Oh, shit, send in the cavalry,” Russel Honore told Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday. “This is a hit on White House decision making.”
Honore said the White House should have sent more people and equipment to the island in advance of the monster hurricane, and the Department of Defense should be given far greater authority over the response.
“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump said Tuesday of his administration’s Hurricane Maria relief efforts. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”
Despite the high marks he has given his administration, the situation on the ground is growing more desperate by the hour as mountains of food, water and other vital supplies has arrived in Puerto Rico’s main Port of San Juan but a shortage of truckers and the island’s devastated infrastructure are making it tough to move aid to where it’s needed most.
About 9,500 containers of supplies were sitting at the Port of San Juan Thursday morning, said Yennifer Alvarez, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s governor.
Shipping company Crowley said it had 3,000 containers there, filled with clothes, food, medicine, water, construction materials and even cars, reports CNN. As of Wednesday, Crowley had only been able to dispatch 4% of those 3,000 containers, said Jose Ayala, the company’s vice president in Puerto Rico.