FEMA chief: Political disputes hurting Puerto Rico relief

WASHINGTON (AP) – Political differences are hurting the U.S. government’s response to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Monday. He did not identify which individual officials he blamed, but the mayor in San Juan has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump for her criticism about how quickly aid is reaching people on the island.

“The unity is not where I want it to be,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said. “When you cannot get elected officials at the local level come to a joint FEMA office because they disagree with the politics of the governor, it makes things difficult and the information fragmented.”

Earlier Monday, Long said in television interviews that he had “filtered out” San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz, Trump’s most vocal critic about the hurricane response. Cruz’s spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment; his phone rang unanswered and his voicemail was full.

Cruz complained Monday morning via Twitter that “San Juan legislators arrived to the Emergency Operations Center to discuss debris and flooding. The mayor was not invited.”

On Sunday she had tweeted: “Power collapses in San Juan hospital with 2 patients being transferred out. Have requested support from @FEMA_Brock NOTHING!”

Cruz backs the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States but is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports maintaining the territorial status quo.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello supports the island becoming another U.S. state.

Long on Monday expressed frustration with the criticism his agency has faced. He attributed the criticism to the inability to disseminate messages to the population via social media or cell phones because the telecommunications were disabled.

“That is a lesson learned,” Long said.

Long said 16,000 federal and military assets are on the ground in Puerto Rico and about 350,000 Puerto Ricans have registered so far in the FEMA system to receive financial assistance. As of Sunday, FEMA said, nearly 12 percent of customers have electricity on the island and about 57 percent of customers of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority have drinking water.

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