San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz hugs a constituent on Saturday.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
The mayor of Puerto Rico's largest city on Friday blasted the federal response to Hurricane Maria, accusing FEMA of not being prepared for the devastation that the powerful storm would unleash on the island.
After days of devastation on the island as crews struggle to distribute supplies to increasingly desperate residents, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told reporters it had come to this: "I will do what I never thought I was going to do: begging. Begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy."
Her news conference prompted a rebuke from President Trump on Saturday, who took to Twitter to unleash on the mayor.
Yulín Cruz's comments stand in sharp contrast to the tone most White House officials, including President Trump, have taken when lauding the federal response in Puerto Rico.
"We are dying here, and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles long," Yulín Cruz said. "So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell."
Standing behind a podium in a baseball cap as she addressed a news conference, Yulín Cruz — who has been an executive at Colgate-Palmolive, Banco Popular, and Scotiabank, among others — was clearly exasperated with FEMA, which has been coordinating relief efforts.
"And [FEMA] have the gall this morning of asking me, 'What are your priorities, mayor?'" Yulín Cruz said. "Where have you been?"
On Saturday, Trump used Twitter to bash what he said was poor leadership by Yulín Cruz.
He said she and others were not able to get their own workers to help in the humanitarian efforts and "want everything done for them."
A White House official told ABC News that the San Juan mayor had not visited the FEMA command center, implying she was more concerned with her television appearances.
Earlier on Friday, Yulín Cruz had also been critical of comments made by Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of homeland security who this week spoke about Puerto Rico as "a good news story."
Duke walked back those comments during a news conference Friday, saying that the "situation in Puerto Rico is not satisfactory."
Trump has also claimed that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has repeatedly praised him and his administration's response to the hurricane damage. But on Friday, there were no compliments from Yulín Cruz, who leads Puerto Rico's largest city.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
In Friday afternoon's press conference, Yulín Cruz appeared at times to be holding back anger and tears as she asked reporters to send out what she called a "mayday call to the world."
"If we don't get food and water into people's hands, what we're going to see is something close to genocide," she said.
Holding up two large white binders, Yulín Cruz also said bureaucracy and paperwork was getting in the way of resources reaching people in need of basic supplies.
"I have been very respectful of FEMA employees," Yulín Cruz said. "I have been patient, but we have no time for patience any more. So I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives."
Yulín Cruz also noted how FEMA officials have been able to respond to other crisis zones around the world, and so should be able to respond more effectively to Puerto Rico.
"They were not prepared for this," Yulín Cruz said. "So, I respectfully disagree with President Trump, and I'm sure that he is not getting the data that we are seeing in the streets."
Tweeting Saturday, the president also complained he was being victimized by the "fake news" media.
The White House director of social media, Dan Scavino, also accused the mayor of "putting on" a "show" for the cameras, noting she had tweeted critically of Trump during the election.
Yulín Cruz responded to the president by tweeting images of herself working after the storm — including one of her waist-high in floodwater — and stating, "The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our "true colors". We cannot be distracted by anything else."
In an interview with BuzzFeed News at the joint command center in San Juan Saturday, Yulín Cruz downplayed the idea that her comments Friday had been a direct attack on Trump.
The remarks "weren't directed at anyone," she said, surrounded by supplies provided by FEMA and private donors. "They were the reality of what's happening in San Juan and Puerto Rico."
In an interview on MSNBC, the mayor said she would not be "distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues."
"I will continue to do whatever I have to do, say whatever I have to say, compliment the people I need to compliment, and call out the people I need to call out," she said.
"This isn't about me. This isn't about anyone. This is about lives that are being lost if things do not get done properly real quickly," she said.
The mayor noted Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, the three-star general leading response efforts, had said more troops and supplies were needed.
President Trump is due to visit the island on Tuesday, and Mayor Yulín Cruz urged him to do more than simply survey the damage from a helicopter.
"Go out into the towns where people are drinking out of creeks, or the towns where all the cows and the dead people are together, or those towns where there's no medicine, and hear from the people of Puerto Rico," she said.
Not all Puerto Rican officials were upset with the federal government, however.
Speaking to MSNBC, the island's secretary of state, Luis Rivera Marín, said the federal government had provided much needed assistance.
"I would not like to believe the mayor is politicizing this issue and this situation that the island is facing," he said. "Without [the] federal government, Puerto Rico would now be facing real dire situations."
"I think the mayor should focus on getting San Juan back in the ground.
"I completely disagree that we've been left out in the cold, out under the sun, without any support from federal government," he said.
Nidhi Prakesh contributed to this report.