Washington, D.C. — Today, House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) led 145 Members of Congress in writing a letter to President Trump demanding that the Department of Defense deploy additional resources to aid recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Lawmakers are calling for the appointment of a senior general to oversee all recovery efforts, the deployment of life-saving military capabilities that would otherwise be unavailable to the relief effort, deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and an increase in personnel to assist local law enforcement.
“President Trump’s effort to aid Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has been wholly inadequate to date,” said Smith. “When a hurricane hits in the continental United States, you can send massive aid via roads, the National Guard can arrive from neighboring states, and people can leave the affected area. None of that is true here. There is no National Guard Navy, and more than 3.5 million American citizens are isolated and unable to access the most basic supplies. The U.S. military has unique capabilities that can help alleviate this situation, and the President must exercise the proper leadership to make that happen.”
“3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico are facing a dire humanitarian crisis,” said Velázquez. “I have heard from seniors whose medical needs are not being met due to power outages, children who are suffering from extreme heat in the crowded airport and families who are still unable to contact their loved ones. These are matters of life and death.”
“While the situation on the ground remains desperate, President Trump held a press conference yesterday congratulating his Administration on their response,” Velázquez added. “If President Trump doesn’t swiftly deploy every available resource that our country has, then he has failed the people of Puerto Rico -- and this will become his Katrina. Every second in this effort counts and the stakes are too high for further delay, inaction or inefficiency.”
The full text of the letter is below and online here with a list of signatories.
September 27, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump:
On September 20th, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands endured a direct impact from Hurricane Maria. With winds up to 160 mph, Hurricane Maria devastated these islands, caused significant power outages, destroyed telecommunications infrastructure, and thereby paralyzed the region. Given the impact of the damage and the population of 3.6 million American citizens affected, we are concerned that federal efforts to date have been insufficient to address the severity of the situation. We know there are DOD elements helping today, and all the service members involved are working very hard, but we are concerned that the scale of DOD assets supporting the operation are inadequate. Thus, we write to urge you to further mobilize the Department of Defense to immediately deploy additional assets in support of Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island recovery efforts.
As you know, the Department of Defense has additional capabilities that could help alleviate suffering in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and prevent this catastrophe from worsening. First and foremost, a senior general officer must be appointed to work with FEMA to manage a joint response assist with the recovery effort on the ground, and enable local constituencies to have a single point of contact. This was done in response to Hurricane Katrina, and we feel the same approach is warranted now for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
As we are sure you are aware, in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there are numerous municipalities that are inaccessible from the ground, which is where DOD engineer and aviation assets would be most helpful. With millions of U.S. citizens stranded in remote areas without basic necessities, engineers are needed first to clear the roads. Additional aviation assets are needed to get relief supplies to isolated locations. Additionally, substantial ground and air logistics support is required to get aid to the islands, rescue stranded citizens, and provide them with supplies and thereafter assist with the restoration of power and telecommunications infrastructure if needed. To fulfill DOD's mission, we believe the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, should be sent to the region, similar to its deployment to Miami following Hurricane Irma.
DHS has indicated it has "provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria's landfall." While these meals and resources are profoundly needed, unfortunately, there is a large portion of the population that has been underserved.
Lastly, DOD has critical resources that could assist with addressing security issues. We have heard reports that the ongoing supply shortages are causing looting and crime. We were recently informed of armed gangs ransacking a warehouse that distributes food and supplies. Defense Department personnel could provide essential support to local law enforcement in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to ensure relief supplies are delivered to those most in need- and that those that have already been immensely devastated by the hurricane, do not need to fear for their lives when filling up their gas at the pump or securing food for their family.
We thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
We look forward to your timely response.