Tom Bossert Defends WH Response to Puerto Rico
by Todd Beamon
Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s response to the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, saying “it is my sincere belief that that food and water will get” to suffering residents.
“I have no doubt,” Bossert told reporters at the White House press briefing. “I’m confident that we have enough resources marshalled and deployed forward to make those decisions under the right command and leadership structures.”
Earlier Thursday, President Donald Trump waived federal restrictions on foreign ships delivering cargo.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account will get a $6.7 billion boost by the end of the week.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, leaving many people desperate for power, food, and other supplies.
In defending the White House’s response, Bossert said a three-star Army general was not named to oversee the relief effort until Thursday “because it didn’t require a three-star general eight days ago.”
Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North, will arrive in Puerto Rico later Thursday “to address a significant problem” — getting supplies out to residents, Bossert said.
“We ran into the priority challenge of distributing land-based supplies to the people,” he explained, because many residents who normally would help were Maria victims and streets had to be cleared.
“We have the resources there do that now, but that the challenge remains,” Bossert added. “The central interior is going to be he reviewed and looked at very carefully to make sure we’re getting the needs of the people met.”
So far, the Trump administration has sent more than 10,000 relief workers to Puerto Rico, including 7,200 troops, Bossert said.
Vessels carrying supplies include 12 Coast Guard cutters, three U.S. Navy ships, one Maritime Administration ship and three commercial ships — and seven vessels were being sent to house first-responders, he said.
In addition, ships carrying 1.3 million meals and water were to arrive on the island Thursday, Bossert said.
All the supplies will be delivered by truck, he said, and air drops would only be used if Buchanan recommended them.
“If the ground force has identified an air-drop mission that is faster, I wouldn’t question his judgment,” he told reporters. “My understanding earlier [Thursday] is that they identified the fastest delivery methodology to be through ground-based means and that we needed drivers and security forces.
“There is a security-force plan laid down for each of the drivers.”
In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers will oversee power-restoration efforts, Bossert said.
“It’s a mission to restore power on Puerto Rico full-stop,” he said. “We’re taking extreme steps.
“I’m pretty certain that the Puerto Rican people will see the results of the dedicated Army Corps of Engineers mission.”
“You’re seeing the distribution problem unclog,” Bossert said, noting 16 people have already died from the hurricane.
“No fatality is acceptable. If that number increases significantly, that will be a devastating blow.
“We’re doing everything we can to prevent that,” he told reporters. “Loss of life from the storm is one thing. Loss of life that is preventable is another.”
Bossert later told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that 51 hospitals are now operating in Puerto Rico and rescue efforts are immediately focusing on those, shelters, and other public places housing residents.
“We’re operating on a 12-hour operation cycle in terms of running a hospital,” he said. “That’s no way to run a real hospital, or island, or territory.
“But we have to triage patients and logistical needs and prioritize their delivery, so we can make sure we sustain lives in an achievable bite-size way,” Bossert said.
“You have to be able to see them, treat them, and admit them — and that has to do with maintaining your emergency power and that’s fuel.”