WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says he’ll visit hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico next Tuesday.
Trump announced the visit after the administration came under criticism for its response to the damage on the island that is home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens.
The island has been coping with shortages of food, drinking water, electricity and various forms of communication after Hurricane Maria pounded the island as a Category 4 hurricane.
Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery operations.
He says he may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Trump says Puerto Rico is important to him. He says Puerto Ricans are “great people and we need to help them.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said he spoke with the president Monday night, and would speak with him again later Tuesday to discuss “a long-term recovery package for Puerto Rico to be presented to Congress,” apparently next week.
“I am confident the president understands the magnitude of the situation,” Rossello said.
Federal agencies announced how they’re helping with the recovery efforts.
The Federal Highway Administration is assessing the damage to roads so that Puerto Rico transportation officials can get federal emergency relief funds for restoring roads, which were washed out or remain blocked by debris in many places across the island. The TS Kennedy, a former commercial freighter used by the Maritime Administration for training, is moving from Texas to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Federal Transit Administration is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to restore ferry service; so far, ferries have been available only during daylight hours to transport emergency supplies to Vieques and Culebra.
Getting off the island was becoming easier: the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan handled nearly 100 arrivals and departures on Sunday, including military and relief operations and more than a dozen commercial passenger flights, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The agency was taking reservations to manage demand for ramp space at the airport and to safely separate aircraft in the air.
Because Maria destroyed or disabled critical radars and navigational aids, the FAA said it has been bringing in replacement systems by air and by sea to restore essential radar, navigation and communication services, and technicians are working on many of those systems now.
A long-range radar in the Turks and Caicos returned to service on Monday morning, giving air traffic controllers a much better picture of planes and helicopters in the region, the FAA said. But technicians were still trying to reach a second long-range radar site at Pico del Este, which is located on the top of a mountain inside a national park in Puerto Rico. The last two miles to the site through the rain forest are impassable, so the technicians are using chain saws to clear a path, the FAA said.
The FAA has mobile air traffic control towers for use in disaster areas; One is currently in use in St Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and another was used in Key West. That wasn’t necessary in Puerto Rico, where air traffic control operations shut down only during the storm.
“The tower has an engine generator and plenty of fuel,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.
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