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New York's Andrew Cuomo issues pointed call for Puerto Rico relief, says put divisions aside

A delegation of U.S. elected officials is headed to Washington D.C. to urge the federal government to give Puerto Rico the same level of assistance and urgency that it gave to help Texas and Florida in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

"This is going to be a long hard road for Puerto Rico and this is a situation that will require billions of dollars in assistance," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Sunday at New York's Javits Center, "and that will have to be done by the federal government."

The Democratic governor, who served as Housing and Urban Development Secretary under former President Bill Clinton, also used the occasion to take aim at the political protests that have divided the nation at the start of the NFL's season.

"Instead of arguing with football players," Cuomo said, whose name has been mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential contender. "Put the politics aside and focus on the Americans that are in desperate need. And those are the people in Puerto Rico."

He added: "We will speak with one voice…and the message is simple, Puerto Rico needs help, it needs federal help, and it needs it now."

The congressional delegation will include New York Congressional Democrats, Reps. Nydia Velazquez and José Serrano, who were both present at Sunday's conference.

"This is a massive disaster that requires a massive respose, especially from the Federal government," Velazquez said.

Velazquez, who on Friday traveled with Cuomo to Puerto Rico on a relief flight to deliver essential supplies, also gave an account of just how severe the damage is on the ground.

"We are exasperatied, we are frustrated because still we haven't been able to connect," she said. The congresswoman said she was still unable to reach her brothers and sisters on the island, due to the severe damages of the island's communications system.

Overall, 95.6 percent of cell sites are out of service on the island after Hurricane Maria hit, with 18 out of the 78 total counties having 100 percent of their cellular services out, according to the most recent Federal Communications Status Report.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Getty Images
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo also detailed the efforts that New York state is making to help Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, by launching the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for the island.

Starting Sunday, there will be a state wide collection and financial contribution effort put in place, manged through the website NY.Gov/PuertoRico. The site will have information on donation locations — managed by the National Guard — and have a list items that the island needs.

The National Guard will bring the donation collections to the Javits Center and then transport the goods to the island with the help of JetBlue, which has donated $1 million of its services for the relief flights.

That however, is unlikely to be enough for Puerto Rico to fully rebuild.

The island's governor, Ricardo Rossello, said at a media briefing on Saturday that the estimated damages were "well north" of the $7 billion to $8 billion estimate of damages that Puerto Rico sustained from Hurricane Georges in 1998.

"I believe this will wind up being worse than Hurricane Georges," Cuomo said.