TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey will send 1,100 emergency responders and National Guard members to Puerto Rico to help with cleanup efforts following Hurricane Maria, Gov. Chris Christie said Friday.
The effort will be the state’s largest such undertaking since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Christie said at a news conference in Trenton. New Jersey suffered its own disaster under Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“I think it’s appropriate in response to the level of devastation,” the governor said.
Christie, standing alongside State Police Col. Rick Fuentes and Adjutant General Michael Cunniff, said his executive order is meant to help organize the state’s response to the crisis. The personnel will include state and local police as well as soldiers and airmen from across the state.
“We’re gonna have to essentially rebuild this island. What the American people have to be ready for and the people of Puerto Rico have to be ready for is this is gonna be years long.”
Maria devastated the U.S territory of 3.4 million residents last week, wrecking the electricity grid and destroying homes and businesses. It is blamed for 16 deaths on the island.
Christie’s popularity in New Jersey soared after his handling of Superstorm Sandy, which is approaching its five-year anniversary. Christie, a Republican, said he has spoken to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello by phone and advised him to be visible during rebuilding because people need to know they haven’t been forgotten.
Some New Jersey cities have said they will be sending officers to the territory, but Christie said these efforts will have to be organized through the state under the order. Newark, one of the cities, said it is coordinating its response with the state police.
Christie did not have a cost estimate for the state but said the federal government would reimburse New Jersey. He said costs would be figured out later, but didn’t specify when.
Christie’s news conference comes as President Donald Trump pledged to help Puerto Ricans recover basic necessities and security.
The Trump administration has said its relief efforts are succeeding, but people on the island say help is scarce and disorganized.
Christie defended the federal government’s response.
“I think it’s always difficult to armchair quarterback this stuff from a distance. I know that better than anybody,” he said.
Trump, a Republican, is expected to stay at his golf course in Bedminster this weekend and slated to survey the damage in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
While Trump criticized his predecessor over how he spent off time, including for playing golf, Christie said it doesn’t matter where Trump stays during the crisis in Puerto Rico.
“If you’re governor or president you’re never off duty. Do you think they can’t find him in Bedminster?” Christie said.
New Jersey residents looking for ways to help Puerto Rico can call 833-654-3577 (833-NJ HELPS), the governor said.
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