SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence heard the urgency Friday, first-hand.
"If you're going to help us, it's got to be now," a young man told him as the two walked among twisted metal in a San Juan neighborhood hit hard by Hurricane Maria. "We need more people, we need more communications."
Pence patted the man on the shoulder and later told reporters, "We understand his frustration when you think of the sheer magnitude of the loss, the impact on families, the loss of life being so grievous." He reiterated that the Trump administration is "here for the long haul" and vouched for President Donald Trump's leadership.
Pence's empathy and reassurance in San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier in the day followed Trump's visit this week to Puerto Rico. Maria wiped out power and left the island's 3.4 million people short of food and supplies. Trump had come under heated criticism for what some said was a sluggish response to the storm's devastation. Trump heatedly denied that and sent one adviser after another out to defend him.
But while Trump tossed out rolls of paper towels to the crowd in San Juan and invited officials to praise him, Pence carried a tray of sandwiches into a reception area at the Iglesia Santa Bernardita. He walked along long tables shaking hands. And he spoke consistently about the federal government's commitment to helping the region recover.
Earlier, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Pence took a helicopter tour of damage wrought by Maria, describing the wreckage as "overwhelming."
"But the resilience of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands is even greater," Pence said. He said Trump wants people to know, "We will be with you every day until the Virgin Islands comes all the way back."
During the aerial tour, Pence saw upended boats along the coast, blue tarps atop damaged homes and uprooted trees and vegetation.
Pence had seen other damage earlier, when his plane flew over homes stripped of their roofs, toppled trees and debris strewn in yards as it arrived on St. Croix. Pence attended a briefing on recovery efforts at an Army National Guard hangar before visiting a church to meet with people affected by the storm. Trump had hoped to visit earlier in the week, but the White House said difficult logistics in the aftermath of the storm prevented his trip.
Kenneth E. Mapp, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said the federal government had hurricane response efforts "down to a science."
"There is no country that responds to disasters like the United States of America," he said, adding that the island is making progress in its recovery and expects schools to reopen Tuesday.