Pentagon to ramp up aide to Puerto Rico in next 24 hours

Pentagon to ramp up aide to Puerto Rico in next 24 hours
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The Pentagon is ramping up aide and restoration efforts to Puerto Rico, including the establishment of a military headquarters and increased food and water delivery, as the island territory recovers from Hurricane Maria.

Brig. Gen. Rich Kim, U.S. Army North deputy commanding general, was set to deploy to Puerto Rico on Wednesday to establish a military headquarters, where officials would manage their response to the U.S. territory's humanitarian crisis, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement.

Davis said that Kim's deployment marks the Defense Department's transition “from a short-term, sea-based response to a predominantly land-based effort designed to provide robust, longer-term support to [Federal Emergency Management Agency] FEMA and the territory."

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U.S. Transportation Command has also coordinated 16 flights to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for Wednesday to deliver food, water, helicopters, communications, logistics and personnel —  14 flights more than were sent Tuesday.

In addition, the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will leave for Puerto Rico within the next 96 hours.

Puerto Rico, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, were badly damaged after Hurricanes Irma and Maria — both Category 5 storms — ripped across the islands in the past month.

The storms killed at least 16 people in Puerto Rico and knocked out power on the entire island. About 44 percent of the territory's nearly 3.5 million people remain without drinking water as well.

The Pentagon has already shipped in power generators, fuel, water, food and medical assistance, but U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Lori Robinson anticipates more aid will be sent within the next day.

“You'll probably see here in the next — for Puerto Rico — 12-24 hours ... we're going to start even more stuff,” Robinson said Wednesday morning at the Women in Defense National Conference in Washington.

“You have to understand what’s happening on the ground so you don't add to the burden, to make sure you put the right capability and capacity,” Robinson added.

Northern Command is overseeing the military response to the islands following the hurricanes. 

National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel was also scheduled to fly to Puerto Rico on Wednesday to assess the damage.

About 1,400 Guard troops are currently on the island to help the residents regain power and clean up the devastated and flooded territory.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he expects lawmakers to approve additional funds for disaster recovery on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The increased Pentagon response comes after numerous lawmakers criticized the Trump administration for not working fast enough or sending enough resources to help Puerto Rico. 

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called the response “wholly inadequate,” and urged President Trump to “assemble a coordinated military effort headed by a three-star general officer.”

Trump on Tuesday defended the administration’s response, pointing to the Atlantic Ocean as a barrier to getting supplies and help to Puerto Rico.

“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico,” Trump said. “But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job.”

Trump also announced Tuesday that he will soon travel to Puerto Rico.