President Trump took a break on Monday from tweeting about the controversy over NFL player protests to talk about Puerto Rico's financial woes, but critics say the president's message is off-base as the island faces widespread devastation.
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In his first tweets since the island was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last week, Trump said Puerto Rico’s "broken infrastructure & massive debt" have left it in worse straits than mainland states.
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
President Trump said today that he will visit the island on Tuesday, adding, "Puerto Rico is very important to me and the people there are fantastic."
Maria was the strongest storm to make landfall in Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years. The storm killed at least 16 people and caused widespread devastation that left most of the island's 3.4 million people without power and half without water amid large-scale electricity and communications outages.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told ABC News, "What's out there is total devastation. Total annihilation. People literally gasping for air. I personally have taken people out and put them in ambulances because their generator has run out."
Travelers trying to leave Puerto Rico described a chaotic scene at San Juan airport on Monday.
"It is extremely hot," Erika Camacho told ABC News. "It’s horrible, there’s no water, no electricity and there’s only two companies working. I don’t know if I’ll come back quick, but I’ll come back. The family is here."
"We tried to get a hotel, everything is booked, the car we had to turn it in, we had no gas," another would-be traveler, Angelica Hernandez, told ABC News. "I just wanna go home, I really do, it’s bad. And then everything we saw from the countryside, it’s just sad. I don’t think I could deal with it."
A few stores have re-opened, but most remained closed due to power outages nearly one week after Maria blasted through. Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month, according to The Associated Press.
Assistant to the president on Homeland Security Tom Bossert, who was in Puerto Rico Monday, called this a "very long and hard recovery," but vowed to Puerto Rico residents, "You will get what you need to recover."
FEMA and federal partners have provided more than 4 million meals, more than 6 million liters of water, 70,000 tarps and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a FEMA spokesperson said. An additional 7 million meals and 4 million liters of water are en route, with more federal supplies coming, the spokesperson added.
Cruz told ABC News, "The FEMA people are great, they're good people. They want to help ... But the chain of command needs to work a little faster for the people."
Many people need drinkable water and food, she continued, and while they are getting help and "appreciate it so much," they are not getting what they need fast enough.
"We don't have time to talk about the debt. We need to make sure we talk about the deaths," Cruz said.
She said she is asking President Trump to allow FEMA to do more.
"Let the FEMA people do what they do best," she said, and "cut through the red tape."
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a statement Monday, "This is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S. citizens."
"People cannot forget we are U.S. citizens -- and proud of it," Rossello said. "So much so that in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which also hit Puerto Rico, we conducted emergency rescue operations to save thousands of U.S. citizens in the Caribbean islands that were devastated by that storm."
"Given Puerto Rico's fragile economic recovery prior to the storms, we ask the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to take swift action to help Puerto Rico rebuild," he continued.
Politicans outside of Puerto Rico have also weighed in.
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted that the island is on the brink of a "humanitarian disaster" and called for controversies to be set aside.
Just spoke w/ fmr Gov @luisfortuno51: “PR on brink of humanitarian disaster." USVI too. DC must put aside controversies, prioritize rescue.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) September 25, 2017
Former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes that Trump "clearly doesn't want to talk about Puerto Rico."
"You know what, more than 3.5 million American citizens, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands. Not interested. Doesn't say a word about it. Now FEMA is down there," Clinton said.
"I've called on them to send the Navy, particularly the naval hospital ship called U.S. Comfort," Clinton said. "I really think that would be a big help. We don't hear a word."
Sen. Marco Rubio said the island "must get power crews in ASAP."
ABC News' Armando Garcia and Emily Shapiro contributed to this report.