By Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he’ll visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday to survey damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
Trump announced the visit after the administration was criticized for the pace of its response to widespread damage on the Caribbean island that is home to more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens. Puerto Ricans have been coping with shortages of food, drinking water, electricity and various forms of communication ever since the Category 4 storm slammed into island last week.
Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery and relief operations.
He pushed back against the notion that the administration wasn’t acting quickly enough to help, saying supplies could be delivered by truck to Texas and Florida after recent hurricanes in both states, but that Puerto Rico is unique because of its location.
“The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean and it’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean,” Trump said Tuesday during a White House meeting with lawmakers about the tax plan he’s rolling out this week. “We’re doing a good job.”
Trump said the administration has shipped “massive amounts” of food, water and other supplies to Puerto Rico.
“We are continuing to do it on an hourly basis but that island was hit as hard as you can hit,” he said.
FEMA Director Brock Long and Tom Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, were in Puerto Rico on Monday to assess the situation and report back on the island’s needs, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The president was also to be briefed later in the day on the administration’s hurricane recovery efforts.
Trump said next week’s trip may include a stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also ravaged by recent hurricanes.
Trump said Puerto Rico is important to him. He noted that he grew up in New York City, which has a large Puerto Rican population, and that he has Puerto Rican friends. “These are great people and we have to help them,” he said.
Trump had planned to visit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands earlier this month, but the trip was delayed after Hurricane Maria formed and became a threat to the region.