President Donald Trump has loosened foreign shipping restrictions to Puerto Rico Thursday in a bid to hasten the delivery of aid and supplies to the struggling populace, Reuters reports.
The U.S. territory’s residents are still staggering in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. Many are struggling to equip their families with basic necessities. Even with the temporary lift on shipping restrictions, Reuters points out that there remain “huge logistical hurdles” in distributing food, fuel and drinking water throughout the territory. Complicating matters further, the majority of the island’s 3.4 million population are still without electricity.
Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello asked the White House for a waiver of the Jones Act, a federal law that places restrictions on international shipping to US ports. A relaxing of the law would help speed some of the impediments faced in getting supplies to the Puerto Rican people. The waiver was authorized by the White House on Thursday and will be enforced for the next 10 days. Signed by the acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, the waiver covers all manners of supplies in transit to the island.
According to Reuters, Duke told reporters that she was satisfied with the White House’s response to Hurricane Maria. She believes the “relief effort is under control” and is “proceeding well.”
Brock Long, on the other hand, disagrees. The administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Long has said he’s dissatisfied with the federal response. He acknowledges, however, that relief efforts have been hampered by things outside of their control, such as the damage sustained by the air traffic control system, airports and ports on the island.
Previously, the White House has temporarily lifted the Jones act in response to major storms. Two such occasions were rather recent, after hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida roughly a month ago.
Government critics have harangued Trump over the slow response in lifting the Jones Act post-Hurricane Maria for Puerto Rico, which was the strongest storm to hit the island in almost 90 years. Critics have argued that the island has not received the same level or urgency of response as U.S. states have, “even though,” Reuters points out, “its resident are U.S. citizens.”
Although the waiver has already been set in motion, some politicians argue the 10 days are not enough time. Others want the law repealed entirely.
However, even if the temporary lift on the Jones Act does affect a positive change in getting supplies to the island, problems still lie in delivery the supplies to the people themselves.
It’s now been eight days since the hurricane struck the island, and shipping containers have been piling up in Puerto Rico’s shipping ports. A virtual “mountain of food, water and other vital supplies” are currently sitting in the main port of San Juan, unable to move.
Jose Ayala, Vice President of Crowley Shipping Company in Puerto Rico, told CNN reporters that the company was currently sitting on approximately 3,000 shipping containers in their San Juan port. The containers hold various shipments, including emergency supplies, relief cargo, commercial materials, construction materials, medicine and foods.
Ayala says the port is at its maximum capacity, yet they’ve “been able to dispatch barely four percent of [their] usual flow at [their] exit gates.”
“Really our biggest challenge has been the logistical assets to try to get some of the food and some of the water to different areas of Puerto Rico,” Governor Rossello told MSNBC reporters, Reuters writes.
According to a spokesperson for Governor Rossello, only 20 percent of truck drivers have reported back to work since Maria struck eight days ago, CNN reports. The low number of drivers is because cell towers are still down, making contacting drivers extremely difficult. On the flipside, the widespread damage to roads and infrastructure also makes it difficult for truck drivers to either get to or leave from ports across the island.
“When we say that we don’t have truck drivers,” Governor Rossello said, “we mean that we have been unable to contact them.”
To compound the matter further, there is a diesel fuel shortage across the island. So, even if the drivers were able to surpass the previously mentioned hurdles, they still might not have enough fuel to actually deliver any supplies.
Puerto Ricans everywhere wait for much of their day to get gas, food and cash. According to CNN, gas stations and supermarkets have begun “rationing supplies.” Banks are also running short of cash.
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