U.S. appoints general to oversee military response to Puerto Rico disaster

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – The Pentagon appointed a senior general to oversee military relief operations in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, even as President Donald Trump’s administration faced calls from lawmakers for a far more robust response to the disaster.

The U.S. territory of 3.4 million people is reeling from Hurricane Maria, which struck on Sept. 20 as the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years, causing widespread flooding, completely cutting power and damaging homes, roads and other infrastructure.

The U.S. military, which has poured some 4,400 troops into the relief effort, named Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee its response on the island.

Buchanan, who heads the U.S. Army North, was expected to arrive in Puerto Rico later Thursday. He will be the Pentagon’s main liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and focus on aid distribution, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Senator Marco Rubio, like Trump a Republican, earlier called on the government to appoint a single authority to oversee all relief efforts, and said the Defense Department should mostly be in charge.

“I‘m arguing that at least when it comes to logistics the federal government is going to have to lead and they’re going to have to put someone there with the authority to make these decisions and execute on them fairly quickly,” Rubio told CNN.

Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said the devastation was shifting from a natural disaster to a man-made one, saying the government’s response had been “shamefully slow and undersized and should be vastly upgraded and increased.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, he called for as many as 50,000 troops “not to occupy the island, not to enforce martial law” but to coordinate logistics and the delivery of aid and basic necessities.

Even as FEMA and the U.S. military have stepped up relief efforts, many residents in Puerto Rico have been frustrated over the prolonged lack of electricity, drinking water and other essentials.

Radamez Montañez, a building administrator from the municipality of Carolina, east of San Juan, said he had been without water and electricity at home since Hurricane Irma grazed past the island earlier this month. “It’s chaos, total chaos,” he said.

Defending the relief effort, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said 10,000 federal government relief workers were now in Puerto Rico, including troops, and that 44 of the island’s 69…

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