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Trump Warns Military, FEMA Could Be Pulled From Puerto Rico

In a series of Tweets on Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested that Defense Department and FEMA relief efforts in Puerto Rico might be coming to an end — even as the military expanded its response on the island, which has been battered recently by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Trump renewed his criticism of the island’s government for the parlous state of infrastructure before the storms hit and said, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

About 90 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens lack electricity, and only about 64 percent have access to potable water, according to the DoD, but Trump said in his Tweets, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.”

He again referred to Puerto Rico’s debt of more than $70 billion to bondholders and said Congress must “decide how much to spend” on a bailout.

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At a White House briefing later, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, sought to clarify Trump’s remarks.

Kelly said an immediate pullout of the military and the Federal Emergency Management Agency from Puerto Rico is not under consideration.

He said Trump’s Tweet was “exactly accurate” that the relief effort is not open-ended but added, “This country, our country, will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”

Kelly put no timeline on how much longer the relief effort will continue, but said traditionally in the military, “You are trying very hard to work yourself out of a job.”

He said he is hopeful that a withdrawal could come “sooner rather than later.”


The DoD said 13,420 active-duty and National Guard personnel are now involved in the military’s response on and offshore, and 92 rotary aircraft and 14 fixed-wing aircraft are operating on the island.

Their efforts are focused on power restoration; distribution of power generators and food, fuel and water; medical support, route clearance, and aviation support; and continuing work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in shoring up the badly eroded Guajataca Dam in the island’s northeast, the DoD said.

Of the 69 hospitals on the island, 36 are back on the power grid and the rest are struggling to operate on generators, the DoD said.

Twenty-nine of 51 wastewater treatment plants are operational and running on generator power, and 78 percent of Puerto Rico’s gas stations are now open, it said.


Photo: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, commander of Joint Task Force Puerto Rico, and soldiers from the Puerto Rico National Guard unload a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter carrying critical supplies in Jayuya, Puerto Rico on Oct. 11, 2017. DoD photo


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