By Veronica Mackey
While alarms in Washington rang loudly when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ripped though Texas and Florida, hurricane stricken Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands received barely a whisper for nearly 6 days.
It has been over a week since Hurricane Maria flattened the landscape in the Caribbean Islands. Three to four million Puerto Ricans are still without power; food and water are in short supply. Flights off the island are infrequent, communications are spotty and roads are clogged with debris.
U.S. Territories of the Virgin Islands—St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island—were still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Irma when the Category 5 fury of Maria struck.
Yet, for 6 days, President Donald Trump seemed more preoccupied with criticizing black NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem than getting aid to the U.S.-owned territories. In fact, by Friday—2 days after Maria made landfall—he’d tweeted more than two dozen times about the NFL.
His apparent lack of empathy has not gone unnoticed, and one Puerto Rican official warned that Maria could become Trump’s “Katrina.” The monstrous Category 5 hurricane of 2005—from which Louisiana is still recovering—was a black eye on former President George W. Bush’s legacy. His slowness to act stirred harsh criticism, particularly within the African American community.
Like Puerto Rico, the hardest hit victims of Katrina were poor people of color (in this case, mostly African Americans). Is Trump doing what Bush was accused of—ignoring the desperate cries of the poor?
By Monday, Democrats and Republicans were emphasizing that Puerto Ricans are Americans, too. “We have a fundamental obligation to Puerto Rico to respond to a hurricane the way we would anywhere in the country. #HurricaneMaria,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted Tuesday.
When Trump finally woke up, he announced he’d visit the islands this week, and said “Everyone says we’re doing a great job,” despite contrasting reports.
Adding insult to injury, in a trio of tweets on Monday night, Trump suggested that Puerto Rico was suffering in part because it had incurred “billions of dollars” in debt to “Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month.