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Hurricane Maria: 'Leave politics out of it,' says Puerto Rican architect and Trump Jnr classmate

Patrick Wood, Monday October 2, 2017 - 13:18 EDT
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'People are annoyed by the politics when the situation is so dire' - ABC

A Puerto Rican architect and former high school friend of Donald Trump Junior says devastated island residents are sick of political fighting over relief efforts as thousands remain without water or power.

Gianpaolo Pietri says he has stayed in contact with his school friend over the years and has contacted him since Hurricane Maria about possible emergency housing, but has received no firm commitment as yet.

It comes as US President Donald Trump engaged in a over the .

"The people that have heard it are kind of annoyed by it that it is becoming political when the situation is still so dire," Mr Pietri told News Breakfast.

He said floodwaters were mixing with sewage, almost no-one had electricity, and half of residents were without clean water almost two weeks after the hurricane.

Mr Pietri said he grew close to Trump Jnr, who was his resident advisor in his dorm at The Hill School boarding school in Pennsylvania, and because of this felt an urge to support the President.

However, Mr Trump's comments on Twitter about Puerto Ricans had put a strain on that support.

"You want to support your friend and his father and it's exciting he got elected president, but at the same time we've had these issue with the tweets," Mr Pietri said.

"Somehow they're unexplainable.

"No matter how much you want to try and be mindful and respectful of the work he's trying to do, when he says some of the things that he says, like what he did about the people here wanting everything done for them, that'll frustrate anybody."

Mr Trump is expected to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday, and Mr Pietri said there were many stories circulating about why the aid efforts had seemingly taken so long.

"Some people blame the local government. Some people blame the local trucking unions who refuse to take the aid out until they negotiate certain packages for them," he said.

"Or some people blame the US Government and the logistical challenges that they're facing.

"It's hard to know which one is true or not, and I'm assuming that it is probably all three, to some degree or another."

Mr Pietri said Mayor Cruz had a solid support base in San Juan, but he still expected a good reception for Mr Trump.

"People will be trying to be deferential to him and be respectful and mindful of the fact that he can really help us and give us the aid that we need," he said.

"Everybody understands that he holds the key to money, key to the recovery and the rebuilding.

"But there is also a lot of resistance to his attitude, his comments about the mayor, his comments about the people here."'

'There are bees everywhere'

The damage the category-four hurricane wrought on the landscape will take a particularly emotional toll on Puerto Ricans, Mr Pietri said.

"It affects you mentally when you go out in an island that's known for being this lush tropical environment and you see the landscape just completely devastated, trees fallen, there's no vegetation anywhere," he said.

One of the more unexpected side-effects has been a surge in the number of bees.

"Everywhere you go there's bees all of a sudden ... Because there's no vegetation, there's no flowers, no pollen for them to feed on," Mr Pietri said.

"I found in my own house, on my dining table, a dead bee, that I imagine was scavenging for food."

He estimated it could take up to a decade for the island to fully recover.

"I live in an area where there are low-lying hills that used to be very lush with green trees and forest-like tropical environments that are completely decimated," he said.

"It looks like a nuclear bomb went off."


© ABC 2017

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