The White House has taken decisive action for Puerto Rico (and for the U.S. Virgin Islands) following the devastation of Hurricane Irma and Maria.
The President has approved 100 percent reimbursement for the first 180 days of disaster response. Initially, the administration intended to provide 75% of the funds, with local government paying for the remaining 25% of the expenses for disaster relief. For Puerto Rico, which simply doesn’t have the cash to contribute, this meant that no federal funds were available.
The waiver means that Puerto Rico has nearly six months to rebuild before the territory has to provide any part of the cash required. This is an unprecedented length of time. Without this waiver, the Island would not be in a position to rebuild.
The White House reports that there are currently 10,000 federal responders on the ground supporting recovery operations. FEMA, in cooperation with other organizations, including the Coast Guard, has provided more than 4.4 million meals; 5.7 million liters of water; infant and toddler kits to support 3000 babies for a full week; 70,000 tarps; and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
One of the biggest concerns has been fuel. Without fuel, the generators that keep electricity available hospitals and shelter cannot run. A lack of fuel has added to the logistics problems that have delayed distribution of emergency supplies.
“We believe there is sufficient fuel on the island right now,” the White House said in a statement. “The challenge is in distributing it.”
Many roads are impassable and bridges are washed out. Some areas of the island are still not in communication. However, fuel has now been delivered to 200 gas stations and 19 hospitals.
Puerto Rico has had long-term challenges in transportation across the Island, and the hurricanes have made this worse. The air traffic control system has been damaged, as well.This has made it difficult to bring in flights. Once supplies reach ports, it is then difficult to distribute the supplies to the rest of the Island.
The White House reports that 15 heavy-lift aircraft and 16 ships are on their way to Puerto Rico. 10 ships carrying generators, food, and water are expected to reach the Island within the next 48 hours.The USNS Comfort, a U.S. Navy medical ship, is also on its way.
The cooperation of the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard have been pivotal in the disaster response.
Del. Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) and Governor Rossello have thanked the White House for their “steadfast support.”