Trump lashes out at Puerto Rico as House passes aid package

2017-10-13 12:24
In Puerto Rico, a resident tries to stay calm after loosing a portion of her roof to the fury of Hurricane Maria. (Carlos Giusti, AP)

In Puerto Rico, a resident tries to stay calm after loosing a portion of her roof to the fury of Hurricane Maria. (Carlos Giusti, AP)

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Washington - President Donald Trump lashed out at hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico on Thursday, insisting in tweets that the federal government can't keep sending help "forever" and suggesting the US territory was to blame for its financial struggles.

His broadsides triggered an outcry from Democrats in Washington and officials on the island, which has been reeling since Hurricane Maria struck three weeks ago, leaving death and destruction in an unparalleled humanitarian crisis.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, with whom Trump has had a running war of words, tweeted that the president's comments were "unbecoming" to a commander in chief and "seem more to come from a 'Hater in Chief'."

"Mr President, you seem to want to disregard the moral imperative that your administration has been unable to fulfil," she said in a statement.

The debate played out as the House passed, on a sweeping 353-69 vote, a $36.5bn disaster aid package that includes assistance for Puerto Rico's financially-strapped government.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the government needs to ensure that Puerto Rico can "begin to stand on its own two feet" and said the US has "got to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy".

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the House action on Thursday night and promised the administration "will continue to work with Congress to provide the resources necessary to recover and rebuild from the hurricanes" and the wildfires in California.

Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria, about 85% of Puerto Rico residents still lack electricity and the government says it hopes to have electricity restored completely by March.

Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the island last week to reaffirm the US commitment to the island's recovery. But Trump's tweets on Thursday raised questions about whether the US would remain there for the long haul.

In a series of tweets, the president added, "electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes". He blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and "a total lack of accountability".

The tweets conflicted with Trump's past statements on Puerto Rico. During an event last week honouring the heritage of Hispanics, for example, the president said, "We will be there all the time to help Puerto Rico recover, restore, rebuild."

White House chief of staff John Kelly, speaking to reporters, said the military and other emergency responders were trying very hard to "work themselves out of a job". Reassuring the island, Kelly said the US will "stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done".

Read more on:    donald trump  |  us  |  hurricane maria  |  hurricanes

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