The Latest: Pentagon boosts troop numbers in Puerto Rico
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump and Puerto Rico (all times local):
The Pentagon is greatly increasing the active-duty military forces being sent in to help relief efforts in Puerto Rico, growing from about 2,500 now to possibly double that number in the next several days.
John Cornelio, spokesman at U.S. Northern Command, says an Army brigadier general will take over the military response. It will include additional medical facilities, satellite communications equipment and a civil affairs unit from Fort Bragg, N.C., that will be used to help communicate with the residents on the island. The unit will use loudspeakers, trucks, leaflets and text messaging to get needed information to the public.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort is expected to leave Baltimore by Saturday, and it will take three to five days to reach Puerto Rico.
The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs for debris removal and other emergency protective measures in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The White House made the announcement Tuesday, saying it will pick up all the costs for six months after the hurricane’s impact.
U.S. states and territories typically cover 25 percent of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent.
Previously, Trump had pledged to cover 90 percent of costs for debris removal in the Virgin Islands, and 100 percent of protective measures for 30 days, then 90 percent after that.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says “it will take a much more aggressive federal reaction” to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico because its government has been so strained by two storms and a fiscal crisis.
Rubio has met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House and with fellow senators after visiting the island Monday. He says he’s encouraged by their desire to help.
Still, Rubio says he fears that conditions on the island could grow desperate in the coming days.
He says barges bringing in supplies and equipment take days to arrive, and once they get to the island, it’s difficult to distribute the items.
Rubio says “the situation grows graver” every day for parts of the island without power.
The Trump administration is sending additional resources to Puerto Rico to step up the federal response to Hurricane Maria, including a flotilla of ships and thousands more military personnel.
Speaking Tuesday outside the White House, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long says the devastation wrought by the storm presents unique logistical challenges for the federal response. He says demolished airports and seaports have made it difficult to get aid and personnel to the stricken island.
Long says 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships are now in the waters around Puerto Rico, with another 10 ships on the way. They include the USS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. Planes and ships are also bringing in a military force to help distribute aid.
The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs of for debris removal and other emergency assistance provided to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
President Donald Trump made the change Tuesday as part of an amendment to his earlier disaster declaration authorizing federal aid in response to the Category 4 storm. U.S. states and territories typically cover 25 percent of the costs, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent.
Puerto Rican officials and sympathetic members of Congress had called on Trump to relieve the island’s cash-strapped government of the cost-sharing requirement.
Trump’s declaration covers costs for removing downed trees, utility poles and other debris, as well as spending for emergency protective measures taken to save lives, protect public health and ensure public safety.
President Donald Trump says he was not preoccupied with his fight with the NFL over the weekend at the expense of storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Trump was asked Tuesday about criticism that he was paying too much attention to the fight over football players kneeling during the national anthem. He says he has “plenty of time” on his hands, adding that all he does is work. Speaking out against the protests, he said, amounts to “respect for our country” and is part of his job.
Trump has come under criticism that his administration responded too slowly to the growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria knocked out power to virtually the entire island. He said he is visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump is sending “America’s hearts and prayers” to people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and says he’ll visit both places next week.
Trump said Tuesday that a “massive” effort to help people recover from Hurricane Maria is underway. He added that includes the military, though he did not give specifics.
Trump spoke in the White House Rose Garden after he received criticism from some U.S. lawmakers that the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria has fallen short of its efforts in Texas and Florida after storms there.
Maria roared ashore Sept. 20 and knocked out nearly all power in Puerto Rico, leaving its 3.4 million residents short of food, water and supplies.
A group of 10 Democratic senators has requested that Congress immediately take up legislation to help the residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The lawmakers say a supplemental spending bill is needed right away because of the devastation brought by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
They say the two U.S. territories need financial help to rebuild homes, provide temporary housing and repair vital infrastructure. Without it, they say the challenging road to recovery will only be prolonged.
The lawmakers are making the request as part of a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
They say, “as members of Congress, we have an obligation to ensure all citizens of the United States affected by natural disasters have sufficient resources to recover.”
Congressional Democrats say President Donald Trump is not acknowledging the gravity of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-NY, says she is concerned that Trump’s continued tweets about NFL players show he doesn’t grasp the severity of the crisis.
She warned Trump that, “If you don’t take this crisis seriously this is going to be your Katrina,” referring to criticism of President George W. Bush following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Velazquez also said she was “offended and insulted” by Trump’s tweet that Puerto Rico’s public debt contributed to the crisis.
Rep. Joe Crowley, D-NY, called it “absolutely ridiculous” for Trump to mention debt “when people are suffering and dying. Here’s a president who’s used bankruptcy throughout his entire career.”
President Donald Trump says he’ll visit hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico next Tuesday.
Trump announced the visit after the administration came under criticism for its response to the damage on the island that is home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens. The island has been coping with shortages of food, drinking water, electricity and various forms of communication after Hurricane Maria struck earlier this month.
Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery operations.
He says he may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Trump says Puerto Rico is important to him. He says Puerto Ricans are “great people and we need to help them.”