Residents of Puerto Rico are still struggling to get basic resources like food, water, money and gas in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The wait for lines to fill gas jugs for home generators spans more than 5 hours. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

White House waives Jones Act for Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Thursday thanked the Trump administration for helping the island cope with the devastation of Hurricane Maria after the president, facing criticism that he had not done enough, agreed to waive a federal law restricting foreign ships from transporting cargo to the U.S. territory.

The governor promised a more rapid, coordinated response soon.

“The federal government and the president are aware of what’s happening here, and they have responded to our petitions quickly with a compromise to help the situation in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said at a Thursday briefing in the San Juan convention center.

In addition to federal aid, Rossello said 17 states have sent disaster response teams to assist the recovery.

The federal government waived the Jones Act restrictions after recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida to aid relief efforts, but not immediately for Puerto Rico, where the island’s 3.4 million residents are still facing shortages of water, food, medicine and other basic supplies more than a week after the storm.

Rossello said he expects the law — which restricts foreign-flagged ships from delivering goods to U.S. ports — will be suspended for at least a week, as it was in those two states. The Trump administration said= the waiver was effective immediately.

How much the waiver of the Jones Act will help Puerto Rico remains to be seen as problems persist, like blocked roads and a lack of capability to move supplies available on the island.

Containers have languished at ports even as residents complained of shortages of gas, food, water and other staples. Much of the island remains without electricity or cellphone service. Conditions worsened this week, as hospitals across the island closed due to broken generators and lack of fuel.

Still, Rossello said 33 of the island’s 69 hospitals were open Thursday as well as 40 dialysis centers. The government also opened 11 centers to distribute food, water and other supplies.

He stressed the hurricane’s toll was staggering, that “almost the entire island is a disaster zone.”

“This is the biggest catastrophe in modern day Puerto Rico,” he said, but “we are taking action and getting results. … I want to say we are making progress. I’m sure we will get stability and we will start rebuilding Puerto Rico better than before.”

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