Durbin, Colleagues Call On President Trump To Prioritize Disaster Relief Efforts For Puerto Rican Islands Of Vieques And Culebra
Senators Urge White House Not To Neglect The Islands And To Carefully Monitor The Vieques Superfund Site
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and 14 of his Senate colleagues to call on President Trump to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra after the islands were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Citing in their letter the remoteness of the islands and reports that residents have been “without running water, power, gasoline or communications for more than a week”, the senators wrote to President Trump to request that sufficient aid and relief personnel be sent to the islands as soon as possible.
“The residents of Vieques and Culebra are U.S. citizens, and no fellow citizen should be left ‘clamoring for help,’” wrote the senators. “They need help now, and we urge that you provide them with sufficient aid and assistance without further delay.”
The Senators also expressed concern about the superfund site on Vieques and the potential health risks posed by the heavy metals and toxic chemicals left on the island after decades of military exercises by the U.S. Navy.
“We share the concern of residents that the hazardous waste may further contaminate the island and water supplies, and ultimately threaten the health of local residents,” the senators wrote. “Additionally, the superfund site contains unexploded bombs and live ammunition that could be washed into the sea, posing long-term health and safety risks.”
Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also joined the letter to President Trump.
Last week, Durbin wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, along with 10 of his Senate colleagues, requesting immediate action on disaster relief legislation for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He also joined 39 of his Senate colleagues in a letter to President Trump to express deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and outlined several areas where strong and decisive leadership is needed. Finally, Durbin, along with seven of his Senate colleagues, requested that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue use all available resources to swiftly provide Puerto Rico with much needed food aid.
The Illinois Air National Guard has deployed a team to provide telecommunication assistance, food, water, tents, and cots to Puerto Rico. Illinois has the seventh largest population of Puerto Ricans in the United States, with more than 200,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
October 2, 2017
President Donald Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, D.C. 20500
We write to ask that you send sufficient aid and relief personnel to the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra as soon as possible. Thousands of lives are at stake. We remain deeply concerned about the entire relief and recovery effort taking place in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The situations on Vieques and Culebra are especially worrisome. We ask that you ensure these islands receive higher priority than they have thus far.
Vieques and Culebra are home to thousands of United States citizens. The islands’ remoteness undoubtedly complicates relief efforts, which makes it even more important in this time of need that we let the two municipalities know, through action, that they are not forgotten. Vieques and Culebra were initially hit by Hurricane Irma before Hurricane Maria dealt the islands another devastating blow.
Communication from Vieques and Culebra is limited, but reports from news outlets, as well as from relatives and friends of people on the islands, are profoundly worrying. For example, as of Thursday, Vieques had “been without running water, power, gasoline or communications for more than a week,” according to one dispatch from the island, “leaving its 9,000 residents teetering on the edge of crisis and clamoring for help.”
There is also urgent concern about the state of the superfund site on Vieques. For decades, the islands were used for U.S. Navy bombing exercises and live-fire training, which left thousands of acres contaminated with heavy metals and toxic chemicals used by our military. We share the concern of residents that the hazardous waste may further contaminate the island and water supplies, and ultimately threaten the health of local residents. Additionally, the superfund site contains unexploded bombs and live ammunition that could be washed into the sea, posing long-term health and safety risks. Careful monitoring of the Vieques superfund site – and all of Puerto Rico’s superfund sites – must be a top priority for the federal government.
The residents of Vieques and Culebra are U.S. citizens, and no fellow citizen should be left “clamoring for help.” They need help now, and we urge that you provide them with sufficient aid and assistance without further delay.
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