Donald Trump blames hurricane-hit Puerto Rico for its financial struggles

US President Donald Trump says Puerto Rico is to blame for its financial struggles.
JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

US President Donald Trump says Puerto Rico is to blame for its financial struggles.

US President Donald Trump has lashed out at hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, insisting that federal help will be limited and blaming the US territory for its financial struggles.

The broadside came as the US House headed toward passage of a US$36.5 billion (NZ$51.3 billion) disaster aid package, including assistance for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has been reeling since Hurricane Maria struck three weeks ago, leaving death and destruction in an unparalleled humanitarian crisis. Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria, 90 per cent of the island is still without power and the government says it hopes to have electricity restored completely by March.

Luis Suarez stands outside his damaged home in Aibonito, Puerto Rico.
MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Luis Suarez stands outside his damaged home in Aibonito, Puerto Rico.

Trump tweeted: "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

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Sonia Torres poses in her destroyed home, while taking a break from cleaning, three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit ...
MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Sonia Torres poses in her destroyed home, while taking a break from cleaning, three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

In a series of tweets, the president said "electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes". He blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and "a total lack of accountability".

Damaged homes stand above a river nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island.
MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Damaged homes stand above a river nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

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Democrats said Trump's attacks were "shameful", given that the 3 million-plus US citizens on Puerto Rico are confronting the kind of hardships that would draw howls of outrage if they affected a state. One-third of the island lacks clean running water and just 8 per cent of its roads are passable, according to government statistics.

"It is shameful that President Trump is threatening to abandon these Americans when they most need the federal government's help," said Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking US House Democrat.

Sergio Alvarado, 12, who was affected by Hurricane Maria fills up containers with water in Naranjito, Puerto Rico.
SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS

Sergio Alvarado, 12, who was affected by Hurricane Maria fills up containers with water in Naranjito, Puerto Rico.

The legislative aid package totals US$36.5 billion and sticks close to a White House request. For now, it ignores huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, which together pressed for some US$40 billion more.

A steady series of disasters could put 2017 on track to rival Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of disasters ever. Katrina required about US$110 billion in emergency appropriations.

The bill combines US$18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with US$16 billion to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance programme to pay an influx of Harvey-related claims. An additional US$577 million would pay for western firefighting efforts.

Up to US$5 billion of the FEMA money could be used to help local governments remain functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria, which has choked off revenues and strained resources.

US House Speaker Paul Ryan planned to visit Puerto Rico on Friday (Saturday NZ Time). He has promised that the island will get what it needs.

"It's not easy when you're used to live in an American way of life, and then somebody tell you that you're going to be without power for six or eight months," said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of the US Congress.

"It's not easy when you are continue to suffer - see the suffering of the people without food, without water, and actually living in a humanitarian crisis."

The Republican-run US Congress had protracted debates last year on modest requests by former US president Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system. Now, it is moving quickly to take care of this year's crises, quickly passing a US$15.3 billion measure last month and signaling that another instalment is coming next month.

Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit US states said a third interim aid request was anticipated shortly - with a final, huge hurricane recovery and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.

 - AP

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