US Personnel On the Ground In Puerto Rico Helping With Relief Efforts

A humanitarian crisis. Millions of people struggling suffering in Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria left the island in ruins

"It's chaos, total chaos", said Radamez Montañez, a building administrator from Carolina, east of capital city San Juan, who has been without water and electricity at home since Hurricane Irma grazed the island two weeks before Maria.

Under the Jones Act, transportation between ports and coastwise points in the United States needs to be done on vessels built in the United States and crewed by USA citizens.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke had declared Thursday that "the relief effort is under control".

Dammit, this is not a good news story. At another location outside San Juan, people approached a cell tower with handsets extended, hoping to see bars appear on their phones.

Hundreds of refrigerated containers full of food and supplies, running on electric generators, are still sitting at the port, with various reports saying issues related to customs, lack of truck drivers and some roads remaining impassable are keeping the supplies from distribution. The houses are largely flattened, the roads are washed away.

The initial phase of disaster response is underway, Montano says, but the response is going to take many years.

But when asked Wednesday if Puerto Rico would get a Jones Act waiver, he replied that "we're thinking about it", but "We have a lot of shippers, and a lot of people - a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted", implying business interests superseded disaster relief.

Puerto Rico, home to more than 3 million US citizens, has had limited food, bottled water and medical supplies since Hurricane Maria struck nine days ago.

While many lawmakers from both parties said the Jones Act waiver would speed assistance for Puerto Rico and reduce costs, USA shipping executives - including Crowley's - and maritime unions warned that the bottleneck was on the island, not on the seas.

"I am asking members of the press to send a mayday call".

FEMA said it would use barges to ship 100 fuel distribution trucks with 275,000 gallons of diesel and 75,000 gallons of gasoline.

"I am proud of Americans helping Americans, friends and strangers alike".

In the nearby fishing town of Catano, authorities said they would open a distribution point over the weekend to hand out food and water, almost two weeks after the hurricane hit. Then he added: "I can tell you this: We have done an incredible job considering there is absolutely nothing to work with".

On Thursday, the White House announced the Federal Disaster Relief Fund will get a boost of almost $7 billion by the end of the week to help Puerto Rico.

According to an adminsitration official, Puerto Rico's governor is in charge of the overall response, that involves a complex web of civilian and military operations.

"There are plenty of ships and plenty of cargo to come into the island", said Mark Miller, a spokesman for Crowley, based in Jacksonville, Florida. "There is a logistical challenge clearly", said Col DeLapp. Miller said those boxes must move so the company can get even more emergency supplies on the ground. "First, there's an understandable degree of devastation on the island and for anybody that needs food and water, power, lifesaving needs and commodities, health care, there's nothing that can help fast enough", he said.

Newark is also sending police, firefighters and emergency management personnel to Puerto Rico to help with relief efforts.

Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Trump's short-term waiver was not enough.

"We will quickly act on that request", Ryan said.

Many hospitals on the island are only now coming back online, with 44 of Puerto Rico's 69 hospitals now operational, according to FEMA.

The U.S. government has temporarily lifted the Jones Act following severe storms in the past, but critics had charged the government was slow to do this for Puerto Rico.

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