U.S. mil­i­tary takes charge

Three-star gen­eral is sent to break re­cov­ery log­jam

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Doug Stan­glin Con­tribut­ing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY; the As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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