Florida Gov. Rick Scott is traveling to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated the island one week ago.
Scott’s office announced the trip with a brief statement Wednesday evening, noting that his visit comes “at the request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.”
Also traveling with Scott will be Florida National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen and other unnamed state emergency management officials. No other details were provided.
Scott’s trip comes amid growing pleas for help by Puerto Rico, which is largely without power and lacking basic services one week after Hurricane Maria struck the island. Nationally, Republicans and Democrats are warning President Donald Trump to ramp up the federal response as Puerto Rico faces a humanitarian crisis.
Scott on Wednesday offered Florida’s assistance in recovery efforts — such as through ensuring supplies can be shipped faster out of Florida’s seaports or potentially deploying National Guard troops or Fish and Wildlife officers.
Even as Florida works to fully recover from Hurricane Irma, our state still has the capability to support our neighbors and friends in their time of need.
Gov. Rick Scott
During a visit to a Kissimmee warehouse packed with thousands of bottles of water encased in plastic, Scott met with Osceola County leaders who are mobilizing relief and planning for a potentially huge influx of Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastated island.
The suburbs around Disney World are home to the state’s largest Puerto Rican community, and many local residents have relatives and close friends trying to get out.
The backdrop for Scott’s visit — bottled water as far as the eye could see — underscored the need to get supplies to Puerto Rico as quickly as possible. Scott gave reassurances that Florida will do all it can to speed supplies to Puerto Rico.
“Even as Florida works to fully recover from Hurricane Irma, our state still has the capability to support our neighbors and friends in their time of need,” he said in a statement.
Scott spoke by phone on Wednesday with both Rosselló and Puerto Rico Congresswoman Jennifer González-Colón, as well as directors at Port Everglades, PortMiami and Port Canaveral. (Scott’s office revised his daily schedule at 3:30 p.m. to reflect that he had had the 5-minute phone calls a couple of hours earlier.)
Scott said the Puerto Rican leaders identified the need for supplies to be quickly shipped to the island.
“I have reached out to Florida port directors to ask them to help expediate (sic) resources to Puerto Rico through the many shipping and cargo businesses that use their facilities,” Scott said in a statement. “Some of our Florida ports have told me that they are standing ready to help move supplies through their facilities as quickly as possible.”
Scott added: “I have directed the Florida National Guard and FWC to be prepared for deployment as soon as we receive a formal request for assistance from Puerto Rico, and we already have an airman from the Florida Air National Guard on the ground in Puerto Rico coordinating air operations. We will continue to do all we can to make sure Puerto Rico has all the resources they need to rebuild and recover.”
In Kissimmee, Scott also said the state is prepared to take a number of other steps, such as providing in-state tuition to arriving college students. Media reports in Puerto Rico suggest that as many as 100,000 people will eventually resettle in Central Florida over the next few months.
“We’ve got to just keep being creative and thinking, OK, so what are the needs?” Scott told reporters. “One thing you find out by doing this, think of our state, we’ve had three hurricanes in 12 months. ... Every time you say, what are the needs you can address?”
Osceola County officials said they expect to ask the state to waive state-mandated class-size restrictions for schools, as well as requirements that students have immunization records. Meanwhile, area clergy urged Scott to lobby federal officials to lift restrictions on religious groups being able to help deliver urgently needed relief supplies.
Clark reported from Tallahassee and Bousquet reported from Kissimmee.