Update From Puerto Rico's Representative In Congress
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is crippled more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit. Much of the island is without power. Food and water are scarce in some areas, and farming has been devastated. Jay Fonseca is a radio show host in San Juan. And he told us the federal response has been slow.
JAY FONSECA: We hear the governor and government say that there's plenty of food. There's plenty of water. There's plenty of supplies. Well, I haven't seen them in the hands of the people.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are people frustrated? What are people saying about the pace of the response?
FONSECA: People are frustrated. Right now it's raining. So usually, FEMA - what they provide real quick is those provisional rooftops, those blue rooftops. They just arrived today, more than a week after. So people that are at their houses that lost their roofs - they're receiving the rain because they don't have any roofs.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are people coping? What are they doing to survive?
FONSECA: I mean, you see the huge line at supermarkets. I mean, others are just going desperate. Someone told me something that I've never heard before - that people are cutting banana trees. And they're eating the plant - the tree, not the banana. The banana's gone.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump has come under increasing criticism. And yesterday, he hit back, accusing the mayor of the capital city, San Juan, of poor leadership. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon is the island's sole representative to Congress. And she joins us now. Good morning, Congresswoman. Good to have you back on NPR.
JENNIFFER GONZALEZ-COLON: Thank you. Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. You just returned from Puerto Rico on Friday. You're now in D.C. You are a Republican. And President Trump has singled you out on Twitter as being wonderful to deal with. At the same time, he tweeted that Puerto Ricans, quote, "want everything to be done for them." And he attacked, as we said, the mayor of San Juan. What's your response to that?
GONZALEZ-COLON: I think that people of Puerto Rico are frustrated. We've never got this kind of disaster before. So some people ventilated their frustration, like the mayor of San Juan. We convert that frustration into action, into how to help the people. I mean, this is down to saving lives.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. But the president seemed to be implying that after something so devastating, the people of Puerto Rico, who are U.S. citizens, we're looking for a handout. You know, for some Puerto Ricans, it feels like they're being treated as second-class citizens. Do you see - do you understand that anger?
GONZALEZ-COLON: Yes. Yes. But you know what? I spoke with him twice during this week and with his secretaries. I think he was referring to the mayor of San Juan's expression and statement because, I mean, he's sending...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does the mayor not have to - have - cannot speak out about the frustration when she's dealing with such a - what she perceives to be a slow level of response?
GONZALEZ-COLON: Let me tell you something. Everybody's frustrated not because of the level of commitment. We're - the Air Force is there. I mean, I'm seeing the troops doing air drops of food. Everybody there is working hard. We've got a problem. The catastrophic disaster we've got - we've never got this before.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you satisfied with what is being done and how quickly?
GONZALEZ-COLON: I mean, we need more. And when President Trump called me yesterday, he said, I just authorized to have more deployment, more people there, more than 500 trucks and drivers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's been many days since Hurricane Maria hit. It's good that that's happening now, say the people there. But why did it take so long?
GONZALEZ-COLON: I mean, there were 4,000 people during - before the hurricane. And after the hurricane, that amount of people was 10,000. So that - now that number is going to increase more. I mean, 600 medics on Saturday, 700 beds - new beds. During this week, the U.S. Comfort is going to arrive into the island. You know what? The people of Puerto Rico is grateful.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon is the sole representative in Congress for Puerto Rico. Thank you so very much.
GONZALEZ-COLON: Thank you.
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