CHICAGO (CBS) — U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez was heading to Puerto Rico on Friday to get a firsthand look at the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria.
Gutierrez, the son of Puerto Rican parents, was born and raised in Chicago, but owns a home on the island. He was heading to San Juan on Friday to survey the damage from last week’s massive storm. His flight leaves O’Hare International Airport at 8:50 a.m.
“Is there a personal objective? Absolutely; to return to that island, and for my family to see me there,” he said. “Then, my broader family; 3.4 million people. I want to go and talk to as many of them as possible.”
Gutierrez checked three bags for his United flight to San Juan.
“Mostly food, and antibiotics, insect repellent,” he said.
The congressman has been outspoken in urging the federal government to take action to help Puerto Rico, as the entire island remains without power, except for backup generators largely being used to keep hospitals running. The island also has sparse food, fuel, clean water, and cellular phone service.
Gutierrez planned to rent a car to tour the island after he arrives. While he assesses the damage from Maria, he wants to figure out how to restore basic infrastructure, like power lines, docks, and air control towers.
“Get those towers up so that planes can get in and out, and bring that relief. Fix the docks,” he said. “There’s nothing getting in. There are barges upon barges upon barges simply sitting in the docks.”
Gutierrez has said the government response has been too slow so far to send federal aid. Earlier this week, he chided President Donald Trump for claiming that government has been slow to arrive after the hurricane because Puerto Rico is “an island sitting in the middle of an ocean.”
“Mr. President, you say it’s a small island out there in the ocean. Well, you built a golf course there,” Gutierrez said earlier this week. “You know where it’s at. Go and deliver the necessary things that the people of Puerto Rico need today.”
For the past week, Gutierrez has helped organize relief efforts in the Chicago area, sending planeloads of supplies to San Juan. He has called on the military to do more to help, and earlier this week spoke on the House floor to call attention to the crisis.
“There is no food in supermarkets. We need an airlift. We need an effort the scale of Dunkirk. We know the U.S. is capable,” he said. “We need the federal government to go all-in to rescue Puerto Rico from a humanitarian crisis which is developing.”
Gutierrez’s speech worked.
The White House has said 10,000 government workers – including more than 7,000 troops – have been sent to Puerto Rico to help in the recovery effort. A three-star general is directing the federal government’s hurricane response.
“I’m happy, and I applaud that they have finally appointed a three-star general,” he said.
Gutierrez said he hopes the military will organize the distribution of supplies, and help evacuate storm victims. He also thanked Chicagoans for donating food, water, and other supplies, and asked that they continue to give to the Red Cross.
“The shipment that we sent on Monday, people have drank that, people have eaten it, people have used it,” he said.
Gutierrez said he also bought one-way tickets back to Chicago for his nieces and nephews. He plans to enroll them in the Chicago Public Schools.
The congressman said he’ll return to Chicago on Sunday, and meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel a day later to discuss how the city can help Puerto Rico.
Also Friday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D) met with Puerto Rican leaders in Chicago. Durbin says he’s well are of the challenges with aid.
“We are talking about increasing air shipments,” said Durbin. “Turning to military to see if they can transport some of these into island (that was) one of first items on agenda today”