TAMPA – Hours after President Trump, in a series of scornful tweets, lashed out at the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital city for her criticism of the U.S. response to the storm-ravaged island, dozens of Puerto Rican families arrived on the first flight into Tampa from San Juan since Hurricane Maria hit more than a week ago.
Yajaira Rivera’s parents were among those on board. Rivera has lived in Florida all her life, but she and her parents regularly visit relatives on the island.
While waiting with others for the hour-delayed flight to touch down, Rivera said she only wished she could bring her entire family from Puerto Rico to Tampa.
“My grandma, she’s so stuck on the island, she doesn’t want to leave,” Rivera said. “They could be going through the worst but they’re so strong that they’re going to stay there. We’ve offered, ‘Come home, we’ll take care of you,’ and they just don’t want to leave.”
After Hurricane Maria hit, Rivera fought for three days to leave the island. She and her 1-year-old son stayed in the airport in San Juan, desperately waiting to get a flight out.
“The three days I spent in the airport, it was horrible,” she said. “There was no air, no light, no supplies. My mom did say today they have fans, they’re providing some sort of structure, but it was still chaos.”
While so many continue to struggle on the island, Rivera struggled to understand why President Trump responded the way he did to San Juan’s mayor.
"Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help," Trump said in a series of tweets a day after San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz accused the Trump administration Friday of "killing us with the inefficiency" after Hurricane Maria.
...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
"They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort," Trump wrote from his New Jersey golf club.
Cruze had implored the president, who is set to visit the U.S. territory on Tuesday, to "make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives."
"I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying," Cruz said at a news conference, her voice breaking with rage.
Rivera said she’d rather see the president talking directly with the people of Puerto Rico.
“He doesn’t know. The mayor is out there walking in flooded water with her microphone trying to find people and what is he doing, just tweeting,” she said.
“He needs to do more than that. The mayor, the community, everyone is doing more and he’s not. It’s pathetic.”
Minutes later, Rivera caught a glimpse of her parents in the terminal. She lit up as she, her son, husband and aunt hurried toward them.
Rivera’s mother cried as they embraced.
“It was a nightmare,” Candy Foster said, describing the persistent wind and rain they experienced as the storm blew through.
“Water was coming into the house, my sister lost her house. It was awful, I cannot describe it.”
Rivera read the president’s tweets to her mother as they talked about what she had missed since the storm.
“Disappointing,” Foster said, shaking her head. “Maybe put aside politics and get to what matters: the people.”
Foster acknowledged she saw for herself the U.S. resources being sent in to help. But given the scale of the disaster, she said, its help is not arriving quickly enough.
“I must say, I saw the military out there, the National Guard, they are doing so many things, and the people are united, so that gives me hope,” she said.
“But right now, with the limitations on the island with communication, there’s things that can be done quicker.”
For now, Saturday’s reunion provided a brief moment of relief for Rivera and her family. But as one period of waiting came to an end, another one began.
“We need to go back,” said Richard Foster, Rivera’s father.
“I felt bad leaving because there’s still so much to do. We’re spoiled, we get to come home but we’re going to go back. We have family and friends who need us.”
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