U.S. military takes charge
Three-star general is sent to break recovery logjam
Three-star general is tasked with unjamming island’s aid pipeline
The U.S. military is sending a three-star general to Puerto Rico along with several thousand more troops amid mounting complaints that thousands of containers of supplies are stuck at San Juan’s port because of red tape, lack of drivers and a crippling power outage.
Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North, was being sent to the island Thursday to better assess the recovery effort after Hurricane Maria so the military can provide the highest level of support, said John Cornelio, spokesman for U.S. Northern Command.
He cited problems getting supplies and aid to residents: 12 of the 29 bridges that have been assessed are closed, and an additional 65 are damaged.
Cornelio also said the number of open gas stations has increased from about 400 to 676.
Although some fuel, water and medicine is trickling into the interior of the island, local and state officials said the response has been too little, too late.
In Washington, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert pushed back Thursday on reports that the federal response has been slow, blaming “misreporting.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, speaking to CNN about the logjam at the port, said she asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow municipalities to distribute goods themselves because “we can get the stuff where it needs to go.” She said she was told to write a memo about that.
“Now is not the time for memos. Now is the time for action, now is the time for justice, now is the time to get life-supporting supplies into people’s hands,” the mayor said.
“Three thousand containers are stuck there, and there is no reason at all,” she said. “My cry is, ‘Let’s get it done.’ ”
As of Thursday, more than
10,000 containers were at the site awaiting distribution, according to Puerto Rican officials.
Amid the devastation from Maria, every problem seems to compound the next. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said desperately needed truck drivers were themselves dislocated by the storm, and because of widespread power and communications outages they were difficult to track down.
He told MSNBC that Puerto Rico has received 4 million liters of water and expects to get
7.5 million more. “Our biggest
“Now is the time for action, now is the time for justice, now is the time to get life-supporting supplies into people’s hands.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz
challenge has been the logistical assets to try to get some of the food and some of the water to different areas,” he said.
Puerto Rico got one important boost on Thursday when President Trump, after initially resisting, waived shipping restrictions for the island at Rosselló’s request and after an outcry from Congress about shortages of fuel, food and emergency supplies.
Authorities reported slow progress: 44 out of 69 hospitals were up and running, 50 municipalities were receiving supplies, and 5,500 people have been rescued.
Rosselló told CNBC that he has used “runners” to report on the needs of various towns and cities and has deployed satellite phones to local mayors.
Rosselló also noted that Puerto Rico’s physical isolation is a complicating factor. “We need to fly assets over here and bring it by boat, and that has been a little bit of the bottleneck,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio. R-Fla., who visited the island this week, said conditions on Puerto Rico are “getting worse.” He told CNN that the “logistical supply chain is broken” and that only a major presence by the U.S. military could help restore roads and get supplies distributed quickly throughout the island.
Bossert also said the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers was tackling the power outage across the island. The immediate goal was to restore temporary power with diesel-run generators, then re- store the permanent generators, then move to repairing transmission lines and hookups to houses.
Bossert acknowledged problems trying to round up truck drivers scattered by the storm to move goods from the port. But he said the immediate shortage had been relieved by the deployment of U.S. troops as drivers.
Military helicopters were used to take patients from hospitals that were not functioning to those that were during the critical first days after the storm, he said. Bossert also said security forces were now in place to protect truck drivers delivering water and food.
Alex De La Campa, who was designated by Trump as federal coordinating officer for relief, acknowledged that truck drivers were unavailable the first couple of days after the storm but said they are now delivering supplies. No FEMA supplies are sitting in ports for lack of trucking, he said.
“All FEMA commodities are moving as we receive them,” De La Campa said. “There is not a single trailer from FEMA or response operations that are at the airport or the port.”
The problems have brought near-paralysis to the Puerto Rican economy and to the lives of many islanders.
Lines have formed at banks or around the scattered ATMs that are working. Without money, people can’t pay for scarce goods even when they find them. Many people are unable to work or run their businesses because diesel to run generators is in short supply or they can’t spend all day waiting for gas to fill their car.
Engineer Octavio Cortes predicts it will only get worse because so many of the problems are interconnected.
“I don’t know how much worse it’s going to get,” Cortes told the Associated Press as he joined motorists stopping on a bridge over a river in the northern part of the island to catch a faint cellphone signal. “Right now it’s manageable, but I don’t know about next week or after that.”
Gasoline remains in short supply, though hundreds of stations are now open.
U.S. Marines have joined civilians to clear roads still blocked by debris more than a week after Maria.