Washington, D.C. – Today, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) made the following statement about the Hurricane Maria disaster relief effort:
“The military effort in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands continues to be significantly under-resourced and we are still not responding properly to the logistical needs at hand. These U.S. citizens are in desperate need of heliborne airlift and search capability, truck drivers, and civil engineers to clear roads and enable the delivery of food, water, and supplies. The center of Puerto Rico is still almost entirely cut off from the outside world as a result of power outages, blocked and washed-out roads, and the destruction of telecommunication infrastructure. People are scared in their homes as they lack water, fuel, and electricity.
“We currently have only 50 helicopters responding to these logistical challenges, compared to a need for far more and a logistical approach that makes proper use of them. There are only some 10,000 troops involved, in contrast to 60,000 during Hurricane Katrina and 22,000 during last year’s Haiti earthquake. The USNS Comfort is only just arriving and President Trump just now visiting the site of a hurricane that happened on September 20. The USS New York and USS Iwo Jima, which helped with relief in Florida during Hurricane Irma, are still sitting in dock in Florida.
“It shouldn’t have taken Congressional pressure to convince President Trump that he should appoint a three-star general to head the effort and send additional supplies. Lt. General Buchanan is only beginning to take stock of the situation, and because of the lag time of more than two weeks, this humanitarian effort is already so far behind the curve that I fear an enormous amount of damage has already been done.
“We know that, as American citizens, the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are resilient and resourceful, but many are without food and water and time is running short. Our military has transportation units with truck drivers and engineer units to clear the streets. It has airlift. It has the capabilities that could make a difference if they are put to good use. President Trump needs to exercise leadership and get these capabilities working for Americans who are in need as soon as possible.”