Legislators take 'sobering' flight to see hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, promise more help

Tim Johnson, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Weather News

Earlier in the day, the chief of staff to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, William Villafane, said he believes as many as 100,000 people lost their wooden homes in Puerto Rico's interior.

"I have never seen anything of the magnitude of this," Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said after the flyover the 10 legislators made.

Kaine said the storm knocked down two pillars of the island's economy, agriculture and tourism, and that Congress cannot deal with the disaster "on the nickel and dime."

"Look at what we did after Katrina at $100 billion in relief. Look at what we did after Sandy at $50 (billion) to $80 billion in relief," Kaine said. "It's not about throwing a dollar here and there."

A Hurricane Maria relief proposal winding through Congress totals $29 billion but most of that money would be for a national flood insurance program and to help fight wildfires in the West, leaving $12.5 billion for Hurricane Maria relief, Kaine said.

He said he was heartened that federal officials told the delegation that the allotment, if approved by Congress, would pay for "an assessment of what the real needs are."

There will be a battle over relief in Congress, Blumenthal said.

"We're going to have a fight. There's no question," he said. "I went through this fight to get relief on Sandy and Sandy was in the Northeast, just a train ride from Washington, D.C."

Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would lead a second congressional delegation to Puerto Rico in the coming week.

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