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Trump warns federal help for Puerto Rico not open-ended

© AFP/File | Puerto Rico remains in crisis three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck as a Category Four storm

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

President Donald Trump warned Thursday that his willingness to expend federal aid on hurricane-battered Puerto Rico was not unlimited.

The US territory is struggling to recover after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island, leaving 44 people dead and cutting power and running water to much of its population, and its governor this week appealed to Trump for additional federal aid.

"We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!," Trump tweeted, in one of a series of morning posts expressing frustration with the situation in Puerto Rico.

Trump has pushed back repeatedly in recent weeks at critics who judged his administration's initial response to the disaster too slow, accusing the media of exaggerating the devastation and minimizing relief efforts led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with support from the Department of Defense.

Earlier Thursday, the president quoted the host for the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group as suggesting the island shared in the responsibility for the plight of its 3.4 million American citizens.

"'Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making,' says Sharyl Attkisson," Trump posted.

"A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend," the president added.

Maria slammed into Puerto Rico as the island was already struggling with a severe financial crisis, which forced the government to file for bankruptcy in May.

Last week, after visiting the island to view relief efforts, Trump had asked Congress to approve an emergency aid package of $29 billion for Puerto Rico.

With over 5,700 people still in shelters and much of the territory still without electricity and running water, Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello this week asked Congress for more financial assistance.

Rossello said he has asked Trump for an additional $4.9 billion under the Community Disaster Loan program.

The governor's office did not respond to queries about the total amount of aid requested, which is now equivalent to around half of Puerto Rico's debt of some $73 billion.

Trump's warning to Puerto Rico prompted Governor Rosello to tweet back: "The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined in pushing back, saying "we don't abandon Americans in their time of need. PR & USVI need MORE help, not less, from the federal govt."

© 2017 AFP