WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Reps. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Darren Soto (FL-09) and José E. Serrano (NY-15) wrote to Secretary of Defense James Mattis urging him to provide additional military resources to the Puerto Rico disaster response effort.
The letter details the calamitous conditions on the island and encourages the Department of Defense to bring more of its unique capabilities to bear on the crisis in order to alleviate the suffering of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens who call Puerto Rico home. In addition, the four Members of Congress recommend that Mattis consider designating a high-ranking military leader to coordinate the DOD response, consistent with the appointment of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore after Hurricane Katrina.
“[W]e remain deeply concerned by reports of harrowing conditions in Puerto Rico and urge you – in coordination with the Governor of Puerto Rico, FEMA and other federal and local government partners – to rapidly deploy additional assets and resources to the island to assist in meeting the urgent needs of the 3.4 million American citizens living there,” the letter said. “With so many American lives in peril, we strongly believe every available tool at our government’s disposal should be brought to bear on this crisis.”
The full text of the letter is below and the signed letter can be found here.
Dear Secretary Mattis:
We appreciate the contributions of our military to disaster relief operations in the Caribbean following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. However, we remain deeply concerned by reports of harrowing conditions in Puerto Rico and urge you—in coordination with the Governor of Puerto Rico, FEMA and other federal and local government partners—to rapidly deploy additional assets and resources to the island to assist in meeting the urgent needs of the 3.4 million American citizens living there.
As Admiral Tidd has stated, our military possesses “unique capabilities and the speed and flexibility that are needed most in the critical, early stages of disaster relief operations.” Accordingly, we understand that Joint Task Force Leeward Islands deployed to Puerto Rico on September 9th and has assisted local and federal authorities with water purification, medical evacuations, damage assessments and other vital tasks in the wake of the two massive storms that struck the island earlier this month. In addition, your Department is reportedly providing mobile communications systems and supplies of diesel fuel to assist the people of Puerto Rico at this extremely trying time.
Unfortunately, despite these efforts and those undertaken by your partners in recent days, the people of Puerto Rico are enduring severe shortages of basic necessities, including gasoline, food and water. Three million people were without electricity this weekend and over 90 percent of the island currently lacks cell service. In addition to catastrophic flooding and property damage, countless roadways remain impassable, cutting off assistance to entire communities, while whole municipalities have no access to cash to pay for life-sustaining supplies. Perhaps most troubling, hospitals are now reportedly running out of fuel and running water. In short, as the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, described, “this is without a doubt the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico.”
At the same time, FEMA’s resources have been strained by the impact of three significant hurricanes in a matter of weeks and Governor Rosselló has called for additional help, including helicopters, from DOD to address the island’s mounting transportation and policing challenges. In light of the growing human suffering in Puerto Rico, we urge your Department to deploy additional resources to meet this request and other outstanding needs on the island. With so many American lives in peril, we strongly believe every available tool at our government’s disposal should be brought to bear on this crisis. We note that a three-star general officer was designated to coordinate military efforts after Hurricane Katrina and encourage you to consider making a similar appointment.
Again, the unique capabilities of the United States military are urgently needed at this critical juncture and we look forward to supporting your contributions to the federal disaster response in Puerto Rico.