USNS Comfort leaves for Puerto Rico

The USNS Comfort set off from Norfolk, Virginia, to Puerto Rico Friday afternoon as the situation on the island remains dire in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The ship Military Sealift Command hospital ship is expected to arrived no later than Tuesday. The USNS Comfort is equipped with sufficient medical supplies for at least 30 days, and could restock later. Some of that equipment includes a catscan unit, dental suite, laboratory, pharmacy, four X-ray machines and 12 operating rooms. On board are more than 800 service members and 70 civil service mariners, and the ship is capable of taking in up to 200 patients a day, with 250 beds for this particular mission.

This isn't the USNS Comfort's first trip to help in a hurricane's aftermath. It was deployed to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005, and came to victims' aid after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. 

President Trump and his administration are taking heat for what critics see as a slow response to Puerto Rico, as the island suffers from a shortage of water, fuel and medical supplies. Under public pressure, the Trump administration temporarily waived the Jones Act to allow more foreign shipments of aid. On Friday, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the Puerto Rico response is a "good news story." That comment did not go over well with San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz.

"Dammit, this is not a good news story," she said on CNN.

"This is a people-are-dying story," the mayor snapped.

Duke also told reporters Thursday that food, water and fuel shortages are "the fault of the hurricane," and, "the relief effort is under control." 

In a Friday speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, Mr. Trump slammed Puerto Rico for being unprepared to handle the storm, and defended his administration's response. 

"This is an island, surrounded by water, big water, ocean water," the president said, noting every agency in his administration is doing all it can to help.

Mr. Trump said Puerto Rico's government was "totally and, unfortunately, unable to handle this catastrophic crisis" on its own, and pointed out the U.S. territory was "already" in debt. 

Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose state was thrashed by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, said Puerto Rico was "devastated" by Hurricane Maria. Scott had lunch with Mr. Trump at the White House on Friday. Scott pointed out that people drove to his state to help out, but — channeling something Mr. Trump has said in recent days — also noted people can't drive to Puerto Rico. 

CBS News' Nicole Sganga contributed to this report. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.