Chicago firefighters and paramedics are heading to Puerto Rico this week to help residents there recover from Hurricane Maria, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city will try to organize to accept families forced to leave the island for an extended time.
Joined by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago, Emanuel sought to draw a distinction Monday between the city’s effort to assist Puerto Rico and what the mayor called the “totally inadequate” response from President Donald Trump’s administration.
“What the federal government did in the last six days, I think you know the conclusion, is inadequate, and I’m being gentle in my criticism of it,” Emanuel said at a City Hall news conference. “Totally inadequate on a human level. Totally inadequate that somehow these are not citizens of the United States of America.”
He said around 1,600 people have already arrived in the city on flights from the island since the hurricane struck Sept. 20. The mayor gave few specifics about how Chicago will prepare to accept people from Puerto Rico.
He said he wants “a structure in place” to prepare for many more to come and perhaps stay for an extended period. Emanuel cited as a model the way many citizens of New Orleans relocated to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.
“How do we take this from an individual basis to make it the city of big shoulders, we’re organized to do this in an organized fashion?” he said.
“I can either take my energy and criticize (the federal government) for their inadequacy, or take my energy and time and focus on getting ourselves organized so people know that if they have loved ones they can bring them, the kids can get in school,” Emanuel said. “They can get the health care they need. They can get an apartment they need or housing they need, a roof over their head. Again, I want to say, as many tomorrows as it takes.”
Flying to San Juan on Wednesday will be 22 city firefighters and paramedics. Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago said they would bring mobile communication equipment to try to help first responders there make up for the fact most phone service is still down. The fire personnel will work in hospitals or provide whatever other assistance officials there need, Santiago said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration said Monday morning that 550 Illinois National Guard members were ready to go to Puerto Rico if needed.
“I am ready to send our Guardsmen on a mission to make sure the people of Puerto Rico are safe and healthy as they find a way to rebuild after such a tragic blow,” the governor said in a statement. “We are one people, united by our love for this country and our willingness to help each other in times of need.”