The mayor of Puerto Rico's largest city on Friday blasted the federal response to Hurricane Maria, accusing FEMA of not being prepared for the devastation that the powerful storm would unleash on the island.
After days of stagnant devastation on the island as crews struggle to distribute supplies to increasingly desperate residents, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told reporters it had come to this:
“I will do what I never thought I was going to do: Begging. Begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”
Cruz's comments stand in sharp contrast to the tone most White House officials, including President Trump, have taken when when lauding the federal response in Puerto Rico.
“We are dying here, and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100-miles-by-35-miles long,” Cruz said. “So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell.”
Standing behind a podium in a baseball cap as she addressed a news conference, Cruz — who has been an executive at Colgate-Palmolive, Banco Popular, and Scotiabank, among others — was clearly exacerbated with FEMA, which has been coordinating relief efforts.
“And (FEMA) have the gall this morning of asking me, 'What are your priorities, mayor?'” Cruz said. “Where have you been?”
Earlier in the day, Cruz was also critical of comments made by Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of homeland security who this week spoke about Puerto Rico as “a good news story.”
Duke walked back those comments during a news conference Friday, saying that the “situation in Puerto Rico is not satisfactory.”
Trump has also claimed that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has repeatedly praised him and his administration's response to the hurricane damage. But on Friday, there were no compliments from Cruz, who leads Puerto Rico's largest city.
President Trump stops to speak to reporters on Friday.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
But in Friday afternoon's press conference, Cruz appeared at times to be holding back anger and tears as she asked reporters to send out what she called a “mayday call to the world.”
“If we don't get food and water into people's hands, what we're going to see is something close to genocide,” she said.
Holding up two large white binders, Cruz also said bureaucracy and paperwork was getting in the way of resources reaching people in need of basic supplies.
“I have been very respectful of FEMA employees,” Cruz said. “I have been patient, but we have no time for patience any more. So I am asking the President of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”
Cruz also noted how FEMA officials have been able to respond to other crisis zones around the world, and so should be able to respond more effectively to Puerto Rico.
“They were not prepared for this,” Cruz said. “So, I respectfully disagree with President Trump, and I'm sure that he is not getting the data that we are seeing in the streets.”