US House speaker vows to secure money needed by Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — House Speaker Paul Ryan vowed to help Puerto Rico secure the money it needs to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria after touring the disaster zone Friday and seeing what he called the "dire conditions" facing many across the island.

Ryan toured the island in a helicopter at the head of a congressional delegation and met with local officials and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the first time since Maria swept across the entire island as a fierce Category 4 hurricane.

"Our heart goes out to the people of Puerto Rico," he told reporters later in San Juan. "What we have seen here today confirms that this is first and foremost a humanitarian disaster."

The speaker noted that the House this week passed a $36.5 billion emergency disaster-relief bill that includes money for Puerto Rico as well as Texas and Florida for the recent series of storms. Ryan said he would work with island officials and the Trump administration on longer-term aid.

The storm is blamed for at least 45 deaths and it damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes. About 90 percent of the island remains without power and 40 percent without water service.

Ryan said he was struck by the "widespread devastation" in the interior towns and accounts of mayors of communities where lost bridges have left them cut off from the rest of the island. He added that there is a need for longer-term needs to be addressed after the humanitarian crisis passes.

"We are all in this with each other for the long haul to make sure that this island survives that this is a beautiful place to raise a family," he said.

His comments contrasted with President Donald Trump, who said in tweets Thursday that the federal government can't keep sending help "forever" and suggesting the U.S. territory was to blame for its financial struggles. The president changed his tone Friday and assured residents that he "will always be with them."