The Pentagon appointed a senior general to oversee relief operations in storm-hit Puerto Rico, Newsmax reports. The U.S. territory of 3.4 million people is recovering from Hurricane Maria, which struck on September 20 as the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years, causing widespread flooding, completely cutting power and heavily damaging homes, roads and other infrastructure.
The storm claimed more than 30 lives across the Caribbean, including at least 16 in Puerto Rico. The U.S. military, which has poured some 4,400 troops into the relief and aid effort, including the Puerto Rico National Guard, named Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee its response on the island. Buchanan, Army chief for the military’s U.S. Northern Command, will be the Pentagon’s main liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. government’s lead agency on the island, and focus on aid distribution, the Pentagon said in a statement.
FEMA has placed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid, Reuters reports. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had earlier called for appointment of a single authority to oversee all hurricane 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.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the crisis was shifting from a natural disaster to a man-made one, adding that the government’s response had been “shamefully slow and undersized and should be vastly upgraded and increased.”
Blumenthal 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. Overall, the island is likely to need far more than $30 billion in long-term aid from the U.S. government for disaster relief and rebuilding efforts following Maria, a senior Republican congressional aide said on Thursday.
According to the aide, while Congress has quickly fulfilled the administration’s requests for disaster assistance, there are concerns that government agencies have been sluggish and that bureaucratic red tape may have slowed the work of the Defense Department and other offices.