Minnesota lawmakers and residents with ties to Puerto Rico called on the federal government Monday to do more to help the hurricane-ravaged island — and implored Minnesotans to get involved if official aid is delayed or denied.
Minnesota Legislature's two Puerto Rican members — DFL Sen. Melisa Franzen, of Edina, and DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St. Paul — and other elected officials and community members said Monday at the State Capitol that many communities on the island of 3.5 million people are without water, food and medical supplies nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit.
Several speakers said they're frustrated the federal government has been slower to send aid to the U.S. territory than it has after other recent disasters in the continental states. They also said that local and state governments, businesses and individual residents may need to step in to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Franzen, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said her grandmother is without an oxygen machine and the hospital in her town is closed and nearing collapse.
"People are going to die if we don't get to them," Franzen said.
Several speakers said they are frustrated and confused by the federal response to the storm, and particularly by President Donald Trump's Twitter attacks on the mayor of the Puerto Rican capital city of San Juan.
In a series of tweets, Trump praised relief efforts in Puerto Rico, accused the mayor of "poor leadership" and said Puerto Ricans should be less dependent on federal help after the storm.
"They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort," he wrote.
Two members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation, Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Tim Walz, along with a staff member representing Rep. Betty McCollum, pledged to push the Trump administration to do more.
Walz said he and Ellison signed a letter along with 138 other members of Congress, urging for a speedier and more thorough response for Puerto Rico. But he said it's clear that more of the 535 members of Congress need to take a similar stand.
"The situation is dire for many of our fellow Americans," he said.
Other speakers, awaiting updates from family members in Puerto Rico, were more blunt — and visibly emotional.
Dr. Miguel Fiol, a U physician, was stranded in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma, and witnessed the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria as it descended on the island.
He said shelters were packed with people and were without medicine or any supplies to help those in need. He implored pharmaceutical companies to help get medicine to the island, and rebuffed Trump's comments that Puerto Ricans are not doing enough to help themselves.
"I am sorry, Mr. President, I take exception to that," he said. "Right here in this corner of the world, we are all standing up: Puerto Ricans and Americans, Minnesotans — all of us."
Javier Morillo, who grew up in Puerto Rico and now works as the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Minnesota, said he's terrified about what could happen to his family and others waiting for help.
He noted that his father served in the U.S. military in Vietnam, and that many others suffering in the aftermath of the storm have also served on behalf of the U.S. and should be treated the same as residents of U.S. states.
"We are not asking for handouts," he said. "A life preserver is not a handout."
Speakers said Minnesotans interested in helping with relief efforts can find more information at givemn.org, or visit drop-off sites around the Twin Cities, including the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center on E. 7th Street in St. Paul and El Colegio High School on Bloomington Avenue in south Minneapolis.