San Juan mayor disputes administration: 'This not a good-news story when people are dying'

In an emotional response to an upbeat assessment by acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, the mayor of San Juan denied that Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria was a “good-news story.”

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was being interviewed by CNN Friday morning when the network played a clip of Duke saying she was pleased with how things were going for the 3.4 million American citizens on Puerto Rico.

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“I am very satisfied,” said Duke in a statement outside the White House Thursday. “I know it’s a hard storm to recover from, but the amount of progress that’s been made — I’d really appreciate any support we can get. I know it is really a good-news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”

Cruz paused before responding, becoming emotional as she spoke.

“Well, maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good-news story,” said the mayor, who has been pleading for help since Maria hit the island over a week ago. “When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good-news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good-news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets and frustrates me. I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns and then make a statement like that, which frankly is an irresponsible statement and contrast with the statements of support that I have been getting since yesterday when I got that call from the White House.”

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“Dammit, this is not a good-news story, this is a people-are-dying story,” continued Cruz. “This is a life-or-death story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food or water. If I could scream it a lot more louder: It is not a good-news story when people are dying when they don’t have dialysis, when their generators aren’t working and their oxygen isn’t providing for them. Where is there good news here? The good news is we’re getting heard. The good news is that there are boots on the ground. The good news is there are boots on the ground and the people from FEMA have their hearts in the right place and the HHS people know what to do. For heaven’s sake, somebody let them do their job. Let them get the food and water into the hands of people, and then we can talk about good news. I’m really sorry, but when you have people dying literally, scraping for food, where is the good news?”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, left, hugs a woman during her visit to an elderly home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017. (Photo: Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

The White House has been projecting confidence about the recovery effort in Puerto Rico, with Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert saying in Thursday’s briefing that the recovery effort has been “textbook and done well.” President Trump tweeted Thursday that the governor of the island told him “Great job!” but also added that tough decisions would need to be made in regard to the cost of rebuilding for the U.S. territory.

Those on the ground in Puerto Rico have criticized the government response and cited a lack of power, food, drinking water and fuel, as many supplies that have reached the ports have been stuck at the docks because of the lack of transportation. With the electrical grid down and fuel supplies scarce, medical facilities are struggling to keep patients alive.

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