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Bill Nelson: Puerto Rico response must ramp up now or drastic measures coming

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The situation in Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico is so bleak that the military response needs to shift from talk to all-out action today or “drastic measures” will have to be taken, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson declared in Orlando Wednesday.

“This is a disaster of gargantuan proportions,” Nelson said.

Speaking at the Acacia Puerto Rican Center in Orlando, and surrounded by numerous local Central Florida Puerto Rican community and political leaders, Democrats, Republicans and independents, Nelson lashed out at President Donald Trump‘s response as far too slow, combined with “happy talk … it’s just not realistic.”

Military involvement in the relief efforts began ramping up Thursday with the appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to take command of operations, and Trump also announced a temporary suspension of the Jones Act, a 1920 maritime law that limits shipments of goods to the island.

Nelson and several others speaking at Acacia Friday including Florida state Sen. Victor Torres, charged that Trump finally began acting due to strong, angry, and growing pressure. Now, Nelson said, the actual efforts must turn dramatically immediately, and he and others contended that only the military has the logistical experience, training, equipment, and manpower to tackle the problems of impassable roads, no power, no running water and no communication across mountainous terrain.

“If we do not see this changing in the next day, and today, then drastic measures are going to have to be taken,” Nelson said. “But I do believe there has been enough agitation expressed to the administration, and to the White House, and to the Defense Department, and to the National Security Council, and to the FAA, and to the Department of Homeland Security. I think there’s been enough agitation including from this senator and my colleague Sen. [Marco] Rubio that we will see action starting right now.”

Nelson repeatedly said that he and Rubio are of one mind on what is happening in Puerto Rico and what needs to be done.

The consequences are that people already are dying inland from lack of food, water and other essentials, others said.

Natalie Rossy and Michael Maldonado just evacuated from Puerto Rico and joined Nelson, Torres and the others Friday. Maldonado said he watched someone die while they waited overnight in an un-air-conditioned airport. Rossy said it’s happening elsewhere.

“Things are much worse than what you see on television,” Rossy said. “We cannot wait until government or military or FEMA takes a plan because people are dying. People are starving. We need food and water.

“Please, we need your help. People can’t wait. Right now we need to take action. We need help. We really need, Mr. President, your help. We are American citizens,” she added.

“The people in the mountains, they are dying. They need help,” Maldonado said.

Nelson suggested that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was reluctant to criticize the federal government’s response so far because he does not want to anger the administration.

Torres criticized Florida Gov. Rick Scott for doing a flyover of hard-hit areas in Puerto Rico Thursday and not visiting people affected, and then saying he awaited requests from Rosselló on how Florida can help.

A former Marine, Torres added, “I know what the Army, what the Armed Forces can do. I know the [Navy] Seabees can reconstruct roads, build bridges, do things that nobody can think of because they have the capability, the know-how.”

“No more talk. Things are getting worse by the day,” Torres said.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]

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