SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Thursday after communicating by phone with the White House that he had received assurances that United States federal agencies would continue to provide hurricane relief for as long as necessary.
Rossello said he had asked for clarification from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders after US President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday morning that there was a limit to how much hurricane assistance the federal government would be able to provide the US commonwealth.
“Congress to decide how much to spend ... We cannot keep FEMA (the US Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump wrote Thursday morning.
FEMA is coordinating nearly 12,000 troops and other federal responders on the ground three weeks after major Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island’s electrical, water and telecommunications infrastructure and is blamed for nearly 50 deaths, carved a southeast-to-northwest path of destruction through the Caribbean island on Sept. 20.
Many municipalities, especially in the island’s interior, continue to lack basic supplies, safe water and medications, while more than 90 percent of Puerto Rican homes and businesses remain without power.
“There’s a federal law that states that FEMA must remain until the emergency has passed,” Rossello said after indicating he was satisfied with Sanders’ assurances.
Rossello referred to Trump’s tweet during a press conference Thursday, in which he said Washington needed to provide sufficient aid to Puerto Rico (whose residents are American citizens) to avert a humanitarian crisis and a mass exodus of people to the US mainland.
The governor said the island had thus far requested of Washington $4.5 billion (already approved) in aid to respond to emergency situations, a $4.9 billion loan to provide “liquidity relief” to shore up public accounts and lastly, and most importantly, a definitive aid package to address the hurricane damage.
Rossello said it was too early to provide a concrete figure but that the Category 4 hurricane was believed to have caused around $90 billion in damage on the debt-ridden Caribbean island.