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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Feds respond in Puerto Rico while Trump fixates on pro sports

National Guard personnel offer evacuation to a Toa

National Guard personnel offer evacuation to a Toa Ville resident after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Credit: AP

The fact that President Donald Trump chose to tweet all weekend about protests by athletes and not at all during that time about Puerto Rico’s destruction might give the false impression that the federal government has ignored the disaster on the island.

To the contrary, since Hurricane Maria swept through, several airports, including San Juan, were opened to support limited flights bringing in food, water and additional personnel.

Six Navy helicopters and three Marine Osprey planes capable of vertical takeoff and landing had begun search-and-rescue operations and damage assessments, news agencies reported.

“The top priority of the federal government is to provide lifesaving resources,” said Paul McKellips, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

U.S. utility crews from the mainland were headed to the U.S. territory of more than 3 million residents to help begin restoring power, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Ricardo Rossello, the commonwealth’s governor, called Maria’s aftermath “complete devastation.” He escalated his calls for help, but wasn’t critical of what has been done so far.

“We know that there are capabilities in the surrounding areas, helicopters, planes and so forth,” he told Politico. “And our petition is for us to be able to use them.”

The island as of Monday was awaiting a federal disaster declaration for 24 of its 78 municipalities, many of which have had little contact with the outside world because of nearly total power outages.

“Whatever relief package we have, whatever impact we have, we are U.S. citizens,” Rossello said. “We shouldn’t be the lesser for it.”

Puerto Rico’s economic troubles — as well as damage from Irma — of course preceded the Maria calamity. There is also a disturbing long-term trend there that the storm is likely to worsen: An exodus of Puerto Rico’s longtime residents.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that population losses accelerated across the island, sustaining the largest out-migration in more than 50 years. The calculation was based on county-level Census Bureau data.

That’s all a likely part of the bigger crisis ahead.

The extent and nature of financing for long-term recovery and infrastructure will undoubtedly become a political issue for the GOP-led Congress and the White House.

For now, other jurisdictions are helping out, such as New York State, which vowed to send 240 of its National Guard and highway patrol members.

Calls to do more immediately have come from the political sidelines.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted over the weekend that Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Defense Department should send the Navy, including the ship Comfort, a seagoing medical facility.

“These are American citizens,” she noted.

By contrast it wasn't until late Monday that the president finally sent out his own message on Puerto Rico -- well after that of the candidate he defeated. And it included cryptic references to the debts the territory owes Wall Street, how the island's power grid was "old," and how Texas and Florida were "doing great."

Trump’s private-sector record on Puerto Rico is less than great.

“Puerto Rico is a fantastic place and deserves the best, which is what we will deliver,” he said in 2008. “Every detail will be important to me.”

The president-to-be also said this about his failed golf course, located at a resort that went bankrupt.

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