President Trump pledges strong aid to Puerto Rico, but doubts persist

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After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico last Wednesday, President Donald Trump made only one tweet — and it was fewer than 100 characters long — about the tragedy, until Monday night, five days after the island of 3 million Americans plunged onto the brink of the Western Hemisphere's deepest humanitarian crisis in years.

Then, when the president did return to the topic of Puerto Rico on Twitter, he devoted nearly all of his three tweets to discussing the island commonwealth's debt and infrastructure problems, before briefly writing that "food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well. #FEMA."

The contrast of that with the nearly two dozen tweets he made in the same period about the NFL and related sports protests has New Yorkers with ties to Puerto Rico vocally frustrated.

They said that their stepped up voluntary relief efforts show a concern and sense of urgency about Puerto Rico that they doubt is shared by the president, even though, on Tuesday, he took a wide variety of actions to aid the island.

"I'll believe it when I see it," said New York State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz to PIX11 News.

The Democrat from Sunset Park, Brooklyn has organized a donation drive that on Tuesday filled an entire semi-trailer shipping container with pallets of bottled water, diapers, baby food, baby formula, canned goods, medical supplies and feminine hygiene products.

Providing the muscle for the loading of the trailer, as well as a forklift, a flatbed truck and a supply van were volunteer officers from the nearby NYPD 72nd Precinct, who residents called heroes.

"You can tell it's a mix of police and the community," said NYPD Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez, the precinct commander, humbly. "But the real heroes," he added, "are the community."

His neighborhood coordination officers connected with Ortiz and other community leaders to procure supplies and to get the supplies that have been donated by residents onto the ship container and dispatched to Puerto Rico.

While supplies are needed far and wide, the shipment that Ortiz organized is headed to areas along the southern half of the island. San Juan, the capital, is receiving a lion's share of the relief, but many other residents on the island, are not getting assistance, in part because the word about their needs simply is not able to get out.

One noteworthy exception is also being targeted for help by the NYPD.

"We need equipment here to help us, and generators and stuff," said Elizabeth Vargas, a retired NYPD officer, in one of the rare messages that has been able to get out of the island whose electric and communications systems were knocked out by the storm. "We don't have any water, there's no gas, there's no communication," her voice mail message continued. "We need something to help people here communicate with loved ones in the States."

Her daughter, Britney Vargas, lives in the New York metro area, and was able to make brief contact with her NYPD-retired mother in order to get the word out. In the brief time the mother and daughter were able to be in touch, her mother texted a photo of a message someone had painted in an intersection near her home in San Germán, in southwest Puerto Rico.

"S.O.S.," reads the message, which is visible to relief helicopters they hope and pray will come, "Necesitamos Agua / Comida!!" We need water and food, the message reads, in translation.

That effort is underway by people in Sunset Park and throughout New York City.

As for President Trump's efforts, one woman shouted epithets about him as she drove by PIX11 News's interview with Assemblyman Ortiz.

"Her reaction represents that of many, including myself," said Ortiz. "We have disaster in Texas, we have disaster in Florida, we have disaster in a place called Puerto Rico," Ortiz said, but Trump "is saying all these things about the NFL," and is not focused on people in need, said the 21-year veteran assemblyman.

For his part, on Tuesday, six days after the hurricane hit, Pres. Trump said on Tuesday that he'll visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands a week from now. He also said, in a White House ceremony, that his administration's commitment to Puerto Rico in particular, is strong.

"A massive effort is underway, and we have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and by everybody else, said the president. "They know how hard we're working and what a good job we're doing."

Trump also held a teleconference with Puerto Rico's governor about the emergency situation.

After the online meeting, Trump flew from the White House to New York, for a brief meeting at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and then headlined a Republican Party fundraiser.