WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is sending a flotilla of ships and thousands more military personnel to Puerto Rico to address the growing humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Maria.
The administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said Tuesday that badly damaged airports and seaports are making it difficult to get aid and personnel to the stricken island.
Long said 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships were in the waters around Puerto Rico, with 10 more ships on the way. They include the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. Planes and ships were also bringing in a military force numbering in the thousands to help distribute aid. Military aircraft were dropping food and water to areas of the island still isolated and unable to receive help by road, he said.
“We’re dramatically increasing the federal footprint that’s there,” Long said, speaking outside the White House.
Six days after Maria struck the island, conditions in Puerto Rico remain dire, with 3.4 million people virtually without electrical power and short of food and water. Flights off the island are infrequent, communications are spotty and roads are clogged with debris. Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month.
The shift, six days after the storm made landfall, came amid a growing chorus of criticism that the federal response so far had been insufficient and had fallen far short of the responses to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
After not mentioning the hurricane-devastated island for days, President Trump pushed back aggressively and repeatedly Tuesday against criticism that he had failed to quickly grasp the magnitude of Maria’s destruction or give the U.S. commonwealth the top-priority treatment he had bestowed on Texas, Louisiana and Florida after previous storms.
Mr. Trump announced that he would visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands next week. He also tweeted about Puerto Rico’s needs. He talked about Puerto Rico during a meeting on tax cuts. He raised the subject at a Rose Garden news conference with the prime minister of Spain.
And he attended a hurricane briefing. He called a meeting of agency heads tasked with helping Puerto Rico recover, and sent top officials, including Long, to talk to reporters.
Throughout, the president stressed that Puerto Rico’s governor had praised the federal response, characterizing Ricardo Rossello as “so thankful of the job we’re doing.”
Mr. Trump, who had proposed visiting Puerto Rico…