Trump says administration is doing 'really good job' on Puerto Rico aid

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Sept 26 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his administration was doing a "really good job" helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, amid complaints that federal aid has been too slow to reach the U.S. territory.

Trump also agreed to boost federal disaster aid to the island, increasing funding to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures, the White House said in a statement.

SEE ALSO: 'Put people above debt,' Puerto Rico official urges amid Maria's devastation

Critics of Trump and some residents of the island of 3.4 million people said the federal government had been too slow to provide basic needs, like drinking water and food, and to help with repairs to the electric grid.

Hurricane Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico

20 PHOTOS
Hurricane Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico
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Hurricane Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico
COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27: Irma Maldanado stands with Sussury her parrot and her dog in what is left of her home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A car is viewed stuck in a flooded street in Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called 'the most devastating storm in a century,' had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Fishing boats with severe damage at Club Nautico in the San Juan Bay. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Men walk past damaged homes after the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island's worst storm in living memory. After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico's southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A local shop sustained damages after Hurricane Maria at Ponce de Leon Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A man looks for valuables in the damaged house of a relative after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Damaged electrical installations are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria en Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man walks close to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Agapito Lopez looks at the damage in his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
TOPSHOT - A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Authorities in Puerto Rico rushed on September 23, 2017 to evacuate people living downriver from a dam said to be in danger of collapsing because of flooding from Hurricane Maria. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: People sit in their apartment after the window was blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: People sit in their apartment with the window blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area last week on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 25: A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. REUTERS/DroneBase
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Maria roared ashore last Wednesday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in almost 90 years, cutting power to the whole island and destroying homes and infrastructure.

Some critics of the federal response have suggested that Puerto Rico is not getting the same attention as it would if it were a state, even though its people are U.S. citizens.

"We've gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico," Trump told reporters in Washington, referring to the damage inflicted on those states by hurricanes Harvey and Irma in August and earlier this month.

"But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It's a big ocean, it's a very big ocean. And we're doing a really good job."

Trump said he would visit Puerto Rico, and possibly the U.S. Virgin Islands, on Oct. 3.

Trump visited Texas and Florida after Harvey and Irma, mindful that the last Republican president, George W. Bush, faced widespread criticism for his administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 people in and around New Orleans in 2005.

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Residents return and evaluate homes after Hurricane Irma
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Residents return and evaluate homes after Hurricane Irma
MIAMI BEACH, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Maria Soto and Michael Perez return home for the first time after seeking shelter in a friend's home when Hurricane Irma passed through the area on September 12, 2017 in Miami Beach, Florida. Florida took a direct hit from the Hurricane. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Stasia Walsh speaks in front of her partially damaged home at the Enchanted Shores manufactured home park in Naples, Florida, on September 11, 2017 after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Walsh and her family rode out the storm in their home. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Don and Marie Larcom show the minor damage their home sustained at the Enchanted Shores manufactured home park in Naples, Florida, on September 11, 2017 after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Don and Marie Larcom put a bird feeder in front of their house at the Enchanted Shores manufactured home park in Naples, Florida, on September 11, 2017 after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents walk along a destroyed trailer park after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Plantation Key in the Florida Keys, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
A resident tosses a piece of debris as she works to clear the street after Hurricane Irma passed through in St Marys, Georgia, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Keane
IMMOKALEE, FL -SEP 11: (L) Mario Valentine sits still stunned in his badly damaged home in Immokalee. At right is his daughter Maria, age 5 who is being told to watch her step by her uncle Jose Valentine. (that's the wife of Jose, Sandra Guzman in between them.) -The town of Immokalee, Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Irma. The community has many farm workers that live in poor living conditions and their homes seemed to be hit the hardest by the storm. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
FT LAUDERDALE - SEPTEMBER 11: Jennifer Polo and her dogs Maggi (L) and Betsy (R) are back home waiting for her roommate top open the door in Ft. Lauderdale, FL September 11, 2017. Polo said she evacuated north but ran out of gas en route and had to take a taxi back home to face the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Andrew Innerarity/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A sign which reads "No Resident Entry" is seen at a check point as local residents try to enter areas of the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Islamorada Key, U.S., September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Andres Delarosa is pictured inside his house, which was flooded after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Immokalee, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017 REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Melissa Delarosa is pictured outside her house, which was flooded after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Immokalee, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017 REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Sandra Guzman, left, with her daughter Maria Valentine Romero, right, and their friend Rosa Pulito, back, are pictured in front of Sandra's mobile home which was destroyed after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Immokalee, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017 REUTERS/Stephen Yang
A resident collects personal belongings from his flooded home in Bonita Springs, Florida, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Hurricane Irma smashed into Southern Florida as a Category 4 storm, driving a wall of water and violent winds ashore and marking the first time since 1964 the U.S. was hit by back-to-back major hurricanes. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BONITA SPRINGS, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: People climb over a wall to reach a community cut-off after wires and trees blocked the entrances two days after Hurricane Irma swept through the area on September 12, 2017 in Bonita Springs, Florida. Hurricane Irma made another landfall near Naples yesterday after inundating the Florida Keys. Electricity was out in much of the region with extensive flooding. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Bush faced particular ire for saying, at a time when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was widely seen as having responded inadequately, that the then-FEMA head, Michael Brown, was doing a "heckuva job."

"Puerto Rico is very important to me and Puerto Rico - the people are fantastic people," Trumpsaid. "I grew up in New York so I know many people from Puerto Rico ... these are great people and we have to help them. The island is devastated."

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who is also from New York, criticized Trump's assessment of the relief effort.

"With all due respect, President Trump, relief efforts are not 'doing well,'" Schumer said.

He called on the Republican president to propose an aid package to Congress in the next day or two.

"The time for tweets and talk is over," Schumer said.

FEMA said in a statement that 7 million meals and 4 million liters of water were en route to the island by barge. The agency had previously shipped more than 4 million meals, 6 million liters of water, almost 300 infant and toddler kits, 70,000 tarps, and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The U.S. government has also sent more than 300 medical staff to the islands and is working to reopen hospitals. More than 150 patients have been moved to the continental United States so far. The Environmental Protection Agency sent a team to assess the drinking water and wastewaster situation.

Nine FEMA teams continue to do search-and-rescue operations on the islands.

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Puerto Rico in darkness
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Puerto Rico in darkness
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: San Juan is seen during a blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 23: Jaime Degraff sits outside as he tries to stay cool as people wait for the damaged electrical grid to be fixed after Hurricane Maria passed through the area on September 23, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A police car patrols a dark street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico battled dangerous floods Friday after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as rescuers raced against time to reach residents trapped in their homes and the death toll climbed to 33. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria the most devastating storm in a century after it destroyed the US territory's electricity and telecommunications infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks on a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan Puerto Rico, late on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico has been battling dangerous floods after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as rescuers raced against time to reach residents trapped in their homes and the death toll climbed to 33. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 21: In Old San Juan, there is no electricity including the area of La Perla. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
A police car patrols a road as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of 'large and destructive waves' as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: Buildings are completely dark during a total blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: San Juan is seen during a total blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 storm on September 20, 2017 San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely impacted. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has announced a curfew, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., effective Wednesday through Saturday. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
Satellite night images of #PuertoRico. #HurricaneMaria knocked out power grid, millions without electricity. More @… https://t.co/YACDm1nDtE
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 21: In Old San Juan, there is no electricity including the area of La Perla. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 21: In Old San Juan, there is no electricity including the area of La Perla. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 21: In Old San Juan, there is no electricity including the area of La Perla. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: A building is dark during a total blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: The Miramar neighborhood is completely dark during a total blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 20: Buildings in San Juan are completely dark during a total blackout after Hurricane Maria made landfall September 20, 2017 in Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
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'NO AID' YET

Many residents are still grappling to get basic essentials.

"No aid has arrived yet," said Eneida Garcia, 61, as she sifted through the wreckage of her home in the southwestern town of Yauco.

Garcia inspected a damaged refrigerator on the floor of her kitchen, silted with mud after the storm burst the banks of a nearby river and flooded part of the town. It contained 120 eggs that were now unfit to eat, she said.

"We have nothing to eat now," she said.

The mayor of Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, strongly criticized Trump for keeping the focus on the island's $72 billion in debt, referring to tweets by Trump on Monday.

"You don't put debt above people, you put people above debt," she told CNN in an interview.

"When someone is in need, when someone is in dire need, when someone is in a life or death situation, there is a human, moral imperative to deal with that situation before dealing with anything else."

Puerto Rico, which has struggled for years economically, filed the biggest government bankruptcy in U.S. history earlier this year. The island's government asked a judge on Monday for up to four extra weeks to meet key deadlines in its bankruptcy case.

In one of a series of Twitter posts on Monday, Trump said, "Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with."

Many structures on the island, including hospitals, remain badly damaged and flooded, with clean drinking water hard to find in some areas. Few planes have been able to land or take off from damaged airports.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has called for federal aid to flow quickly to the island.

Singer Marc Anthony, whose family is from Puerto Rico, joined the criticism of Trump in a strongly-worded Twitter post on Monday, saying Trump should stop dwelling on a controversy involving National Football League players and the national anthem. "Do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico. We are American citizens too," he tweeted.

Six days after the storm hit, officials were still taking stock of what was expected to be a months-long effort to rebuild the power system, meaning many people will be without electricity for an extended period.

Maria was located about 175 miles (285 km) southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to weaken and become a tropical storm over the next day as it headed north in the Atlantic Ocean.

Forecast tracks showed it headed away from the U.S. mainland over the next few days. 

 

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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