Just over two weeks ago, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a monstrous Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour. Maria cut through some of the most heavily populated areas of Puerto Rico, leaving the island in a state of total devastation. Yet for over a week after Maria came through, aid from mainland America has been minimal, if not nonexistent.
The island, home to 3.5 million American citizens, was left without power and communication services as storm surge flooded the island. Roads and highways were either blocked by uprooted trees or pieces of homes. Cities and villages were obliterated as the infrastructure could not withstand the brunt of the storm. Emergency services also struggled to provide food, water, and shelter to those in need.
With local government struggling to provide relief, there have been repeated requests for aid from FEMA and other government agencies. While the White House sent representatives to observe the damage, the aid has been minimal, as has been the response from the Trump Administration. In the days that followed Maria’s landfall, the Administration chose to focus on the Alabama governor elections, the NFL player protests and the latest GOP bill to repeal Obamacare.
President Trump took a familiar tone on Saturday, September 30, tweeting that the media coverage of Puerto Rico was “unfair” according to the President’s Twitter page. He encouraged the island citizens to not believe the “#FakeNews” that was being broadcasted, seemingly forgetting that 95% of the island was still without power.
That Saturday, Trump also targeted the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz. Cruz criticized the Trump Administration’s lack of response to the disaster and requested federal aid. Trump responded via Twitter, “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They… want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.” Trump’s response was heavily criticized by citizens, news and media outlets. Rightfully so because claiming that an entire island of people who have nothing left “want everything to be done for them” is repulsive and reprehensible.
Trump visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday and met with government officials. But in an impromptu speech, Trump marginalized the problems faced by the victims of Maria by comparing Puerto Rico’s death toll to Hurricane Katrina’s. Puerto Rico’s last official death toll was 16 according to vox.com, but officials are in the process of updating the actual count. A leader’s response to disaster should not disparage victims, but Trump continues to defy leadership expectations by expecting Puerto Ricans to be grateful for the minimal aid they have received.
At the end of the day, the 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico, just like those in Florida and Texas, are suffering and the response to the crisis has been negligible. Although many private organizations have come forward to donate food, water, and supplies to Maria’s victims, it is questionable whether the Trump Administration will provide the necessary relief for the citizens of Puerto Rico as they did for residents of Florida and Texas.