SAN JUAN – US Sen. Bernie Sanders traveled to Puerto Rico on Friday to meet with officials and get a first-hand view of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
The Vermont lawmaker and 2016 presidential hopeful was met at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
Sanders later joined San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on a tour of Playita, one of the capital neighborhoods hardest hit by Maria, the most powerful storm ever to strike the island.
The Category 4 hurricane slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, knocking out water and power and rendering most of the island’s roads impassable.
More than 50 deaths are blamed on Maria.
“I want the people in Puerto Rico, as well as those in the Virgin Islands, to know that they are not alone, they have not been forgotten,” Sanders said in Playita. “Only 26 percent of Puerto Rico has electrical power and around 90 percent of the US Virgin Islands is still without any electricity.”
“The level of destruction in Puerto Rico is unprecedented. Rebuilding will require significant resources over a long period of time,” he said.
At a subsequent joint press conference with Yulin, Sanders joined the mayor in denouncing the awarding of a $300 million contract for repairing Puerto Rico’s power grid to a firm whose main investor made contributions to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
State-owned utility AEE’s decision to hire Whitefish Energy Holdings was controversial in Puerto Rico even before the Daily Beast reported Tuesday that the firm behind Whitefish, HBC Investments, was founded and led by Joe Colonetta, who donated more than $50,000 to the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.
“It smells bad,” Sanders said of the deal, pledging that he and his colleagues on the Senate Energy Committee would closely examine every aspect of the contract with Whitefish, a Montana-based firm with only two permanent employees.