As the president praises aid efforts, residents of the island's rural areas report "we haven't seen a government official or anything, no FEMA, no military, no local government"
by Jessica Corbett
As President Donald Trump continues firing off tweets that praise the highly criticized U.S. response to a growing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, other members of his administration are pushing a positive public relations campaign to contradict harrowing on-the-ground reports, according a memo leaked to Axios Sunday morning.
"In contrast to dire reports from the island, White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert sent West Wing colleagues an unusually upbeat update—leaked to Axios—that points to a rapid recovery no one on the ground is witnessing," the outlet reports.
"This is still an urgent situation," Brossert acknowledged in the memo, before adding: "I hope to turn the corner on our public communications."
Bossert then outlined a PR plan for the coming days:
I recommend that today and tomorrow we use the general theme of supporting the governor and standing with the people of Puerto Rico to get them food, water, shelter and emergency medical care. Monday and Tuesday we can pivot hopefully to a theme of stabilizing as we address temporary housing and sustaining the flow of commodities and basic government services, including temporary power. After that we focus on restoration of basic services throughout next week and next weekend. Then we start a theme of recovery planning for the bright future that lies ahead for Puerto Rico. Planned hits, tweets, tv bookings and other work will limit the need for reactionary efforts.
"The President's visit Tuesday will inspire the people and let them know we all care," Bossert added.
Though there was no mention of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz—whom Trump attacked on Twitter Saturday after she criticized his administration for its limited disaster relief efforts as well as misleading comments about conditions on the island—Bossert noted that Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, a Republican, "should continue to get more public messaging support from us."
Although aid if finally reaching some of the island's more rural regions, many residents of the U.S. commonwealth remain without food, drinking water, fuel, or electricity.
As Reuters reports Sunday:
More than half of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people lack access to drinking water 11 days after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory, and 95 percent remain without power, according to the U.S. Defense Department. Some are expected to be without power for months.... Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has destroyed roads, making it difficult to get food, water, and fuel around the island.
Federal Emergency Management Administration officials annouced Saturday that a third of the island's telecommunications network was repaired, but when Reuters reporters spoke with residents of rural towns such as Salinas and Fajardo, many said they not only lacked cell service but also they had not seen any local or federal officials in their areas.
As hundreds of people waited to enter a Fajardo Wal-Mart store on Saturday morning, one resident said: "We haven't seen a government official or anything, no FEMA, no military, no local government."