- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2017

President Trump said Thursday that his administration deserves a “10” for its response to the devastation wrought in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, rejecting criticism over millions on the island still lacking electricity and clean water a month after the storm hit.

At a meeting with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, the president reassured the island’s residents that the federal government would stick with them through a long and difficult recovery process.

“People are really seeing the effort that’s been put into Puerto Rico. It’s been a very, very difficult situation for many people,” Mr. Trump said at an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Rossello.

Asked by a reporter what grade he would give the effort on a 1-to-10 scale, Mr. Trump replied: “I would give myself a 10.”

The Trump administration’s response in Puerto Rico has been criticized for being slow and insufficient. One of the loudest critics has been San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, who accused Mr. Trump of ignoring islanders’ pleas for help.

Mr. Rossello has been a steadfast supporter of the Trump administration’s response and has credited Mr. Trump with delivering everything requested.

“Certainly, working in a united front, we are going to beat this,” the governor said. “We know we’re going to build better than before.”

Still, the suffering continues in Puerto Rico. The island was bankrupt and its infrastructure was failing before the historic double-whammy from two powerful storms.

The island, a U.S. territory whose residents are American citizens, first was grazed by Hurricane Irma and then took a direct hit Sept. 20 from Maria, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall.

The catastrophic storm caused widespread flooding, damaged homes and knocked out roads, bridges and the power grid.

It was the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico in 90 years.

A month later, fewer than 20 percent of the 3.4 million Americans who live on the island have electricity and 35 percent still lack drinking water.

The Oval Office meeting included several administration officials and focused on the ongoing need for a massive government response. In many cases, infrastructure must be completely rebuilt, including plans for a new power plant.

The president said the need to design and construct a power plant underscored the extent of the damage beyond what was experience when recent hurricanes hit Texas and Florida.

“Step by step, bringing it back, but you can’t really bring electric back until you rebuild the power plant, and that’s obviously a different level [of recovery],” he said.

The Trump administration and Congress are considering further assistance for the bankrupt U.S. territory.

Disaster costs are expected to run into the tens of billions of dollars.

Congress is working on boosting funding for emergency relief as well as a $4.9 billion loan to help the cash-strapped government, which is poised to run out of money for payroll and essential services at the end of the month.

The FBI is investigating local officials in Puerto Rico for diverting relief supplies, including food and water, for their personal profit.

“There has been corruption on the island, and we can’t have that,” said Mr. Trump.

Mr. Rossello said a crack down is underway.

“If there is a public official that is purposely mishandling the food that should go to the people of Puerto Rico, there is going to be some hell to pay,” he said.

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