NEWARK  — Sen. Robert Menendez and the head of the Red Cross in New Jersey are in  Puerto Rico to help with the recovery from Hurricane Maria as other Garden Staters also prepare to join the effort.

The Democrat will fly a commercial flight from Miami to San Juan on Friday morning and will meet with Gov. Ricardo Rossello. During a press conference at Newark Liberty International Airport on Thursday, Menendez criticized the U.S. relief effort for the island devastated by Hurricane Maria.

New Jersey Helps with Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief
(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

"We have extraordinary resources as a country, we are the most powerful nation on the face of the earth, and it's time we use that power on behalf of three-and-a-half million United States citizens in Puerto Rico who face a unique challenge," he said.

He called for additional National Guard troops and the Army Corp of Engineers to be used for rebuilding efforts.

His trial on corruption charges is on a break Friday.

On his Facebook page, Menendez said the White House tried to block his trip. "We need an on-the-ground assessment to see how Congress can jumpstart recovery efforts.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told reporters outside the White House Thursday that food, water and fuel shortages on the U.S. island are "the fault of the hurricane" and that "the relief effort is under control."

Seventy Port Authority workers leave this morning from JFK Airport to help with specialized areas of the recovery effort. Ten Port Authority police officers will help with search-and-rescue while other employees will help facilitate the reopening of San Juan International Airport and help assess damage to shipping facilities.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced on Thursday a contingent of the city's police officers, firefighters and Office of Emergency Management workers will also go to the island in rotating shifts.

“We are already working with great energy to raise funds, manifest support and show empathy with the fellow Americans of Puerto Rico who are suffering greatly in this unprecedented and devastating natural disaster," Baraka said. "To the residents of Puerto Rico, we are saying, ‘You are not alone. Help is on the way.’”

Plans are awaiting approval from the Puerto Rican government to send members of the NJ Air National Guard, according to state Sen. Shirley Turner.

The Mercer County Democrat said she participated in a conference call on Thursday with the Governor’s Office and other officials who were briefed by Gen. Michael Cunnif of the New Jersey National Guard and Col. Rick Fuentes of the New Jersey State Police about New Jersey’s proposed response.

She said that the National Guard is working to establish donation centers at two of its armories.

New Jersey Red Cross CEO Ana Montero left Newark Liberty International Airport Thursday morning for the second time in the past month.

"I was born in Puerto Rico, raised in New Jersey, I'm a Jersey Girl. But I have a lot of family in Puerto Rico...that's not unlike many who live in New Jersey and are from Puerto Rico. We all have a very vested interest and for many this is personal," Montero said.

Montero was in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma went through and expects to be there for another two or three weeks. She is joining staff and volunteers from all over the world to support residents. 13 volunteers are already in Puerto Rico and another 140 volunteers from both New Jersey and New York will be deployed.

"My primary role is co-ordinating with the government, FEMA and all the other community partners and non-profit organizations to make sure that we are getting the help to the people that need it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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