WASHINGON, DC--US President Donald Trump called Puerto Rico “one of the most corrupt places on earth” in a swipe at the US territory’s leaders just as Hurricane Dorian menaced the island, reawakening memories of recent devastating storms.
Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people just months after it filed for bankruptcy.
Still, the eye of the hurricane appeared to have passed Puerto Rico's eastern coast by mid-afternoon after plowing over the US Virgin islands and Culebra, an island belonging to Puerto Rico, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Though it is gathering strength, Dorian a Category 1 hurricane, was blowing winds considerably less powerful than when Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017.
Dorian is expected to be a major hurricane with the potential to do severe damage by the time it reaches Florida by late Sunday or early Monday, NHC forecasts show.
After approving an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, Trump took a swipe at the US territory on Twitter on Wednesday morning.
“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!” Trump wrote.
Trump has a history of disputes with Puerto Rico’s leaders. He was heavily criticised for a tepid response to the 2017 hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico.
Ernesto Morales of Puerto Rico’s National Meteorological Service told a news conference in San Juan that Dorian would cause heavy rain and possible flooding on the mainland.
“As the day goes on the rain will get stronger,” Morales said, adding that between four and six inches of rain would fall on the island, and more in some areas. Soils were already saturated in some parts, meaning flooding was likely, he said.
The NHC said Dorian was blowing maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour (mph) (130 kilometres per hour (km/h)) and located about 45 miles (70km) northwest of St. Thomas, the US Virgin Islands, in its 5:00pm advisory.
This week, Democrats in the US Congress also slammed Trump for shifting US $271 million earmarked for disaster aid and cyber security to pay for detention facilities and courts for migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, described the shift as “stealing from appropriated funds.”
Two years ago, Puerto Rico was recovering from Hurricane Irma when Hurricane Maria struck, destroying roads and bridges and leaving much of the Caribbean island without electricity for months.
Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said that the island was better prepared for Dorian.
“Don’t worry, we are going to protect ourselves, we are going to be in a safe place and wait for this phenomenon to pass,” Vazquez told a televised news conference on Wednesday.
Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of her predecessor, said infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they were in 2017.
The US response to Maria became highly politicised as the Trump administration was criticised as being slow to recognise the extent of the devastation and in providing disaster relief to Puerto Rico, an island of more than 3 million people. Trump later disputed Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 3,000.
Hogan Gidley, a White House deputy press secretary, accused Puerto Rican authorities on Wednesday of misusing taxpayer funds in the 2017 hurricanes.
“The money we sent down there, we now know, several on the ground have been indicted for misusing that money, giving it to politicians as bonuses, watching that food rot in the ports – the water went bad,” he told reporters.
Puerto Rican public schools will be closed again today, Thursday, and public workers have been instructed to stay home.
A US Air Force base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, home to the largest spaceport in the United States, entered the early stages of hurricane preparations Wednesday morning.
“Teams will start preparing personnel and facilities for the possible arrival of the storm,” the base said in a statement. ~ Reuters ~