WASHINGTON — After touring hurricane devastated coastal and inland regions of Puerto Rico, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., on Sunday called for massive military intervention while President Donald Trump said criticism of relief efforts was coming from “fake news or politically motivated ingrates.”
The reports — told with still and video pictures from a variety of news outlets with reporters on the ground showing most of Puerto Rico still without power; sparse cell service; food and water shortages; roads and bridges and homes ruined — are not fake.
“FEMA cannot do it alone,” Gutierrez told the Chicago Sun-Times in a phone interview from San Juan, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Gutierrez was born in Chicago and moved to Puerto Rico as a teen before eventually returning to the city.
He and his wife have family on the island, and the couple own a condo near San Juan.
The North Side lawmaker said he was not able to communicate with members of his wife’s family until he showed up at their door Saturday with tickets for them on a Sunday flight on United Airlines from San Juan to Chicago.
Those five family members from Puerto Rico — his wife’s parents, two grandnephews and a grandniece — will be staying at the Gutierrez home in Portage Park.
Even though there are about 10,000 federal responders in Puerto Rico, it’s not enough, said Gutierrez, who flew on a FEMA helicopter to help deliver supplies Saturday to the town of Comerio, in the eastern center of the island.
Gutierrez said scores of helicopters are needed to provide assistance to hard-to-reach rural areas in the mountains as well as more airplanes using airstrips outside of the metro area of San Juan to deliver supplies and evacuate people who have been without water, food or phones for days.
There is also an urgent need for the expertise of the Army Corps of Engineers to make emergency bridge repairs to roads that can be used.
“There should just be hundreds of helicopters running relief, rescue, rescue efforts, to get people out of harm’s way. Then FEMA can find them a place to live and give them food. So it’s more than just FEMA,” Gutierrez said.
“We need the military to bring the communication systems and surround the island with floating satellite, they can do, they can put them up in the air, they can put them in balloons up in the air, so people can at least tell you, send their SOS’s,” he said. “There are people in the mountains of Puerto Rico who have painted their roofs with paint saying ‘help me’.”
This type of aid is outside the ability of a mayor to muster.
Gutierrez did not single out FEMA for criticism; his emphasis was on how Trump’s White House needs to send more help to Puerto Rico.
“I saw thousands of patriots, American patriots that work for FEMA. I saw tears in their eyes and just grief on their faces. They’re doing everything they can.”
Gutierrez said the military assistance needed would include the Army Corps to rebuild bridges so trucks can deliver supplies.
“This has to come from Washingon, D.C. They need military intervention, they need the Army Corps of Engineers. We need more than FEMA. FEMA is not going to be enough.”
“. . . In the rural areas there are people just that have been totally disconnected from everything, from water, from schools, from communication, from everything. The Army has to go in there and build temporary bridges so that people can be evacuated.”
TRUMP WRONG ABOUT FAKE NEWS
Trump spent the weekend at his golf course in New Jersey — and at the Presidents Cup golf tournament on Sunday — unleashing a string of at least 20 Twitter posts defending and praising his handling of the Puerto Rico disaster and blasting all critics.
“We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates…..people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. …Thank you to the Governor of P.R. and to all of those who are working so closely with our First Responders. Fantastic job!”
As CNN’s Brian Stelter noted on his “Reliable Sources” media show on Sunday, fake news stories are “made up, designed to deceive you.”
Reports about the suffering in the wake of the hurricane — and how much more federal help is needed — are not fake news.
Mick Mulvaney, the White House director of the Office of Management and Budget, was asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” why did he think the news stories were fake?
Mulvaney didn’t think the reports were fake; Trump deserved more credit, he said.
Conceded Mulvaney, the coverage “is entirely accurate.”