“We don't have time for the political noise.”
There’s been sharp criticism of the Trump administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to the disaster following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, not least from Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the territory’s capital and most populous city. "Increasingly painful to undestand [sic] the american people want to help and US Gov does not want to help. WE NEED WATER!" Cruz tweeted Sunday morning. Indeed, more than two weeks after the storm made landfall, 43 percent of the island still lacks water access and more than 88 percent lacks electricity. At least 34 people, and likely many more, have died of storm-related causes.
She continued: “Power collapses in San Juan hospital with 4 patients now being transferred out. Have requested support from FEMA. NOTHING! … The Hospital had requested support from FEMA and no response. Oh sorry they are collecting data...”
When ABC News's Martha Raddatz interviewed FEMA Director Brock Long on Sunday, she asked about Cruz's allegations that the agency was falling down on its recovery duties. Long did not appear fazed. Indeed, he appears to not believe the mayor’s concern was worth his or the agency’s time, telling Raddatz, “We filtered out the mayor a long time ago. We don't have time for the political noise."
"If there is a power failure at a hospital, which we've seen two over this past week, we're actually life-flighting the ICU patients out of those hospitals and onto the USNS Comfort," a Navy hospital ship currently supporting the island, Long said. Navy press releases confirm the island has received a total of nine critical patients from Puerto Rico hospitals after they experienced power failures.
It’s not clear whether the most recent Navy-reported hospital power failure, on Saturday, is the one Cruz was referring to in her tweets; that evacuation happened at Hospital Menonita in Caguas, about 20 miles from San Juan.
Long’s criticism of Cruz follows in the footsteps of President Trump, who insulted Cruz on Twitter last weekend and on Saturday night told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a TV interview that Cruz “did a very poor job” and was “not a capable person.”
Cruz has a right to be frustrated. Since the vast majority of the island still lacks power, generator failures at hospitals are likely to recur and lives may be lost. Trump dithered in dispatching the USNS Comfort and waiving the Jones Act, which raises the cost of shipping to Puerto Rico (and the Jones waiver expired as of Sunday). As of this writing, Trump still hasn’t authorized the level of infrastructure rebuilding assistance he has for Texas following Hurricane Harvey. And as the administration was overseeing this slow response, the Trump administration briefly removed data on how many Puerto Ricans still lack water and power from FEMA’s website, before restoring it following public pressure.
Long’s comments, however, suggest that the administration is trying to shut out criticism of the response from Cruz and other local Puerto Rican leaders.