(Ramón Tonito Zayas)

Washington - The White House issued a statement yesterday saying they are closely monitoring the emergency caused by this week's earthquakes in Puerto Rico, amid calls from congressional leaders asking the federal government to act swiftly this time, contrary to what happened when Hurricane María struck the island.

President Donald Trump, who until last night had not commented on the situation on the island or talked to Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, was briefed "on the earthquakes that Puerto Rico has experienced over the past month, including the earthquake early (yesterday) morning," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere.

The Trump administration's slow and inefficient response to the island's 2017 emergency - Hurricane María - still generates criticism, as does constant efforts to stop the release of federal funds to address the emergency.

Deere said Trump government officials, "including FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor, have been in touch with the Governor and her team today, and we will continue to monitor the effects and coordinate with Puerto Rico officials."

Congress Democrats, including House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, senators and presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Puerto Rican Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez called on Trump to address the emergency on the island swiftly and comprehensively this time.

They urged Trump to release tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. government has not yet distributed on the island, despite being authorized by Congress after the emergency triggered by Hurricane María.

They also said the new crisis on the island is another message against austerity measures.

"The Trump administration's indifference and incompetence have already cost residents of Puerto Rico their lives and their livelihoods, and continuing that pattern now is completely unacceptable," said Grijalva, who chairs the committee with jurisdiction over the island.

"Time and time again the Trump administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico," and "we must do everything we can to help," added Sanders.

In a letter, Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, also asked Trump for a swift response.

They stressed that "the localities that are grappling with the effects of the earth tremors are smaller municipalities that do not have the necessary resources to handle the situation alone, and the Puerto Rico local agencies are taxed to their limits by their financial condition and the continuing larger recovery effort."


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