The new three-star general heading up recovery efforts Puerto Rico said Friday that the military has not sent enough troops there and is poised to send many more amid growing criticism over the Trump administration's response.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said the military will add to the more than 4,000 troops already deployed for the disaster relief mission by sending more helicopters, mobile medical hospitals and personnel to help with distribution of supplies like food and water.
A week after Puerto Rico was slammed by Hurricane Maria, the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are ramping up operations and shifting to a ground-based recovery effort, but critics have pointed out that past disasters in Haiti and Japan were met with over 20,000 U.S. troops.
"No, it is not enough and that's why we are bringing a lot more," Buchanan told reporters Friday morning when questioned about the current troop level. "In particular aviation, we've got 25 federal military helicopters here and we're bringing many more. That is not enough."
Buchanan was just deployed to coordinate relief efforts on the U.S. territory where many of the 3.4 million residents are still struggling to get basic supplies such as food, water and fuel.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pressing this week for a bigger military response and urged President Trump to send the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was sent to Florida following the powerful earlier storm Hurricane Irma.
"Dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life or death story," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said Friday.
But FEMA pushed back against comparisons of the response in Puerto Rico to earlier disasters.
"When we start comparing disasters, we don't like to do any of that because every disaster is unique in its own way," said John Rabin, an acting regional FEMA administrator who is heading up the relief efforts.
Puerto Rico has National Guardsmen who are very capable of handling the devastation, Rabin said.