Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Monday drinking water supplies have been restored to almost 60% of the island but some areas in the north remained at around 20% after Hurricane Maria hit the USA territory. Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz - who has been critical of Trump and the federal hurricane-relief effort - said his comments seemed to come from a "hater in chief".
President Donald Trump tweeted that first responders can't stay in Puerto Rico "forever", but if history is any indicator, they can definitely stay there for a long time. "Congress to decide how much to spend", he added.
"We can not keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been incredible (under the most hard circumstances) in P.R. forever!", Trump tweeted, in one of a series of morning posts expressing frustration with the situation in the U.S. territory of 3.4 million people.
Earlier Thursday, the president quoted a journalist with the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group as suggesting the island shared in the responsibility for the plight of its citizens.
Ryan said he didn't know about Trump's tweets.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in an email Thursday (Oct 12) to reporters about its relief efforts, notes that it has received reports of people trying to drink potentially risky Superfund water, from wells that were sealed to avoid human exposure to toxins: "There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste "Superfund" sites in Puerto Rico".
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"It all will be determined by the conditions on the ground", the official said. Reassuring the island, Kelly said the USA will "stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done".
After seeing the destruction in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria, Chestnut Academy Middle School intern Kayla Lingel wanted to plan a fundraiser to support those in need on the island.
The content and timing of the comments, as the island struggles with the storm's aftermath, prompted swift backlash from some Democratic lawmakers, who said such a move would amount to abandoning US citizens. "EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be risky to people's health".
Administration officials sought to downplay Trump's comments Thursday morning.
Captain Scott Miller, a spokesman for the United States military's Northern Command, which is overseeing Puerto Rico relief operations, said there had been no instructions to dial back aid. Puerto Rico has about 24 industrial waste sites contaminated by industries including pesticides and battery recycling.
And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reaffirmed federal support to the island. "We continue to do so with the full force of the US government and its resources in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and other affected areas", she said.
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"Why do you continue to treat Puerto Ricans differently than other Americans when it comes to natural disasters?" He says Puerto Rico shouldn't expect federal help "forever". Dianne Feinstein, D-California, tweeted. She added, "Tweet away your hate to mask your administration's mishandling of this humanitarian crisis. @RealDonaldTrump seems more anxious about blaming hurricane victims than helping them".
But it is Trump's tone toward Puerto Rico that has drawn the most criticism.
As for the issue of accountability, the president may have been referring to reports of inefficiency and mismanagement among Puerto Rico's local governments. "There are the people that say that of course it's going to be a great improvement for us ... but then there's a lot of people that are very mad because they say we are selling the island to outside interests". "It's regrettable and it's sad for those people but there only is physically, humanly possible so much that any nation could do in the wake of devastation". "We must give more help, not less!"
Acting Department of Homeland Security Elaine Duke will make her second trip to the island on Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan will lead a bipartisan delegation visiting Puerto Rico on Friday, according to the speaker's office.
Ryan will travel to the island with House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Rep. Nita Lowey of NY, the top Democrat on the panel. Puerto Rico's sole representative in Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, and House GOP Conference Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers also will be part of the congressional delegation.
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The legislative aid package totals $36.5 billion and sticks close to a White House request. The measure now heads to the Senate, which returns from a weeklong recess next week.