Politics & Government

Trump to visit Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands to view Irma recovery

A downed powerline near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. More than 630,000 people lost power after Hurricane Irma passed just north of the island on September 6.
A downed powerline near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. More than 630,000 people lost power after Hurricane Irma passed just north of the island on September 6. jwyss@miamiherald.com

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Thursday that President Donald Trump will visit Puerto Rico along with the U.S. Virgin Islands to view Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the territories first hand.

Details of Trump’s trip are forthcoming, Rosselló said.

The governor also said that Puerto Rico will host about 3,000 victims of Irma from the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean countries that suffered a direct hit from what was then a e Category 5 storm.

“We have been working to ensure that other U.S. citizens in the Virgin Islands and elsewhere can have safe passage, have shelter in Puerto Rico and restart their rebuilding process,” Rosselló said.

Over 500,000 people lost power in Puerto Rico, which avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma after the storm tracked just north of the island. But hurricane force winds in some places reached 100 miles per hour, causing a crumbling power grid to falter, and officials warned it could take months to fully restore power in parts of the island.

Rosselló said Thursday that power has been restored to more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico after 75 percent of the island lost power when Irma passed just north of San Juan on Sept. 6. He’s been in regular communication with the White House over the past week and said that White House officials have pledged to support Puerto Rico’s needs. Puerto Rico sustained an estimated $1 billion in damage from Irma, up from an initial estimate of $600 million.

More than half the island of Puerto Rico was without power, leaving 900,000 in the dark and nearly 50,000 without water, the U.S. territory's emergency management agency said in the midst of the storm. Fourteen hospitals were using generators afte

That damage will play a role when Congress discusses an Irma relief package, which will cost billions of dollars after Irma moved through the Keys and along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“We will start making the proper arrangements so that we can mitigate future impacts,” Rosselló said, adding that he has talked with Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders in Congress about Puerto Rico’s needs. “Some of these infrastructures were designed for 155mph winds, they don’t do that anymore so we really need to make sure that whatever efforts and whatever funding we’re getting we can use...it to mitigate in the future.”

Rosselló was in Washington on Thursday with Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and a host of other current and former senior officials from the territory. Their message, in addition to making sure that Puerto Rico gets enough federal help after Irma, is that Congress must act to ensure that the territory’s health care system remains solvent and that the territory must be included if Congress passes an overhaul of the nation’s tax system.

If Congress does not reauthorize funding for Puerto Rico’s health care system, it could run out of money by March 2018.

“This could provoke a $30 billion higher expenditure on health care for the United States as a whole,” Rosselló said. “Should we address the problem in Puerto Rico it would be a longer term, less costly solution for the United States.”

And leaders from the island are making the pitch to Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, who chairs the tax writing committee in Congress, that Puerto Rico must be included in any plan to overhaul the nation’s tax system.

“Puerto Rico has the peculiarity of being treated domestic for some things, but is foreign for tax purposes,” Rosselló said. “If Puerto Rico is not included in this tax reform, it will be a devastating blow to our economy and to our growth potential.”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty