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To rebuild, Trump must show civility after the storm

To rebuild, Trump must show civility after the storm
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Leave it to President Trump to pick the worst time to show his worst self. Over the weekend, while San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was busy trying to bring more attention to the people still suffering after Hurricane Maria, Trump took to Twitter to personally criticize her.

Mr. President, now is not the time for a new low.

Millions of fellow Americans are still in states of shock and recovery across Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and stretching across Florida to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, three of the most destructive storms in recent memory, swept in and blew apart lives. Were lucky the death tolls were not higher.  The damage to infrastructure will continue to mount and we must move to meet the needs of millions living without electricity, clean drinking water, and food.

 

Puerto Rican citizens are living a real-life horror story. Half do not have drinking water, nearly all do not have clean drinking water.  Tragically, as we learned from the nursing home deaths in Florida, time is quickly running out in Puerto Rico. It is in crisis.

The situation in the U.S. Virgin Islands is just as urgent. These islands’ infrastructures and local economies, which are dependent on tourism, are virtually wiped out. Irma destroyed a staggering 80 percent of St. Thomas’ buildings.  Four out of five residents are homeless. 

Hurricanes are equal opportunity destroyers. However, the rebuilding efforts often lag for people living in poverty, as they are unable to afford to restart their lives. Abruptly and brutally, they swamp honest, tax-paying citizens with torrential rains and treacherous winds, flood homes to ruin, knock out roads and bridges, and swell dam reservoirs to dangerous levels. 

Hurricane Katrina took 1,833 lives in 2005.  She temporarily displaced every single member of my family: father, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  Some of them lost their homes, damaged beyond repair.  In the aftermath of Katrina, I was full of anger — at government officials for not responding quickly to aid workers complaining of the chaos that arose after waters receded.

Soon, I stopped complaining and wrote a column directed at President George W. Bush.

I wrote, “How can I help you?” 

“We need civility,” the president replied.

Then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco appointed me to serve on the Louisiana Recovery Board, and I immediately lobbied members of Congress. I said at the time, “In the middle of a national disaster the president of the United States is personally asking for civility, one of our most important values. He values common decency most to help him deal with this crisis.” 

As President Trump prepares to assess the damage in Puerto Rico (why not the Virgin Islands as well?), he must avoid the temptation of lashing out at local officials struggling to meet the demands of their citizens. Like presidents Bush and Obama, who both dealt with their share of natural disasters, the Trump administration must work cooperatively with state and local officials, first responders, and others in the effort to rescue families still suffering in the aftermath of these powerful hurricanes. 

It will take time to remove debris, restore neighborhoods, rebuild infrastructure and make everything safer and stronger. Local officials will need the helping hand and cooperation of the federal government.

Post-Katrina, I learned that the focus should be on the 4 Rs: Rescue, recovery, rebuilding and resiliency.

 The rescue process has nearly ended in the states, but volunteers and others are helping people sift through the debris in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Millions remain in life-threatening danger and they feel forgotten and abandoned. They need help now.

Recovery will soon begin as the waters recede and home and business owners return to their damaged properties, remove the mold and property lost in the wake of the storm. Thousands of electrical workers have started to restore power, but the reconstructing the electric grid in Puerto Rico is a matter of live-saving urgency.

Rebuilding takes time and it will involve more than money. It requires bipartisan leadership from state and federal government officials, and bringing in experts who understand the best ways to rebuild communities safer and stronger.

Finally, resiliency. Our stricken fellow citizens may have lost everything with no ability to pay for the repairs or rebuilding. Their ability to recover will come from many sources, including waiting on much needed help. They need us at our best: united, determined to help — and civil. 

The Trump administration must take the lead in helping hurricane-struck Americans recover and rebuild. Unity springs from mutual respect — from setting aside the blame game — and working together in faith and trust. 

President Trump needs to work with local officials regardless of their partisan affiliation. The country is desperately looking for leadership. It’s time for the president to answer the call and help lend a hand to the recovery and rebuilding of our country from three powerful storms.

Donna Brazile (@DonnaBrazile) served as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2016-17. She is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.