Mexico plans aid for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Sneakers hang from downed wires in the wake of Hurricane Maria in the Vietnam section of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico on October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Nick Brown

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Suffering itself after two major earthquakes last month, Mexico plans to send aid including water and electricity experts to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

The gesture, announced by the Mexican government on Wednesday, follows an awkward series of exchanges between Mexico and the United States over emergency aid in recent weeks.

Mexico plans to send some 30 tons of bottled water, mosquito repellent and specialists in power generation, transmission and distribution from the state power utility, Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) team would work to mitigate the damage and assist in restoring power supply after Maria, the ministry said.

The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, Maria caused at least 34 deaths and inflicted widespread damage to homes and infrastructure, including wiping out power across the Caribbean island.

Mexico has had strained relations with its northern neighbor since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, promising to build a wall along the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs.

Mexico had planned to send material assistance to the United States after Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in late August, but later withdrew the offer after the first of the two quakes struck southern Mexico in early September.

Trump was criticized in Mexico for the time he took to offer condolences to his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, over the first quake, which killed at least 98 people. The U.S. president later said he had been unable to reach Pena Nieto because of poor cellphone reception.

Ironically, after Maria struck Puerto Rico, the local cellphone operator of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim proved more reliable than some U.S. competitors during the early days of the communications outage across the island of 3.4 million people.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Frances Kerry