WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence discussed the federal response to recent natural disasters, specifically in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, with News 6 anchor Erik Von Ancken Saturday afternoon.
Pence said he and President Trump met with Gov. Rick Scott at the White House Friday for an update on Florida's condition after Hurricane Irma swept through the state less than one month ago, adding that he was pleased with the leadership shown by Scott and all agencies assisted throughout the state following the storm.
"It really is a testament to the strength of Floridians and to all of the enterprises that have come alongside to get the electrical grid back up and operational, that we've made the progress we've made," Pence said.
During the interview, Pence encouraged any Central Floridians who had not already applied for the federal assistance available to home and business owners through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to join the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have.
Von Ancken asked Pence about the frustration experienced by many Central Floridians who have family in Puerto Rico, which was slammed by Hurricane Maria, and don't think the response has been effective enough, including that people who have collected supplies for victims of the storm are having trouble finding ways to transport them there.
Specifically in Puerto Rico, Pence said, FEMA has responded extraordinarily, and began responding even before Maria made landfall on the U.S. territory last week as a Category 4 storm.
Pence said he understood Americans frustrations, but assured them that action was being taken.
"I think that as the American people look at what's happening in Puerto Rico, they can be proud," Pence said.
As of Saturday afternoon, Pence said 11 major highways, 750-plus gas stations, more than half of the island's grocery stores and and even some hospitals had reopened in Puerto Rico.
The vice president said that transportation difficulties are expected to decrease a bit with the reopening of the highways, and that federal officials are working with the governor of Puerto Rico in hopes of arranging more flights.
He said the island's ports are moving "vibrantly," and that 2.3 million liters of water and more than 1 million meals had just arrived.
Sixteen U.S. Navy ships and 16 helicopters are scheduled to arrive to the region within days, 10,000 federal officials are on the ground, 4,500 National Guard members are there and more are on the way, Pence said.
President Trump tweeted criticisms Saturday morning of the mayor of San Juan.
The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
...want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Pence responded to Trump's comments during the interview.
"I think President Trump is staying focused exactly where the American people, and particularly people with family and friends and heritage in Puerto Rico, want the president to be focused, and that is on continuing to provide the resources and support to rebuild Puerto Rico," Pence said. "Now is not the time for anyone to play politics. Now is the time for us to focus on results."
He said he understands people's frustrations and sees the heart of the people of Florida, and the rest of America, shining through with their concerns, but assured that, at the end of the day, the American people will see the results of "extraordinary commitment" in Puerto Rico.
Pence said that, under the direction of President Trump, and alongside the support of the American people and the leadership of the governor of Puerto Rico, the people of the U.S. territory "will come back better and more prosperous than ever before."
President Trump and the First Lady are scheduled to visit the island Tuesday. Pence said he will be in Puerto Rico this time next week.
In the meantime, Pence encouraged Central Floridians looking for more information on national volunteer organizations for Puerto Rico to visit nvoad.org.