WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Trump administration announced it is waiving federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday on Twitter that President Donald Trump had “authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico.”
She said Trump was responding to a request from the governor and it “will go into effect immediately.” But the problem of distribution remains, CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported.
“The island setting presents logistical hurdles that do not exist on the mainland, where trucks from around the country can converge on disaster areas,” Sanders said.
The Jones Act is a little-known federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports.
Republicans and Democrats have pushed Trump to waive the Jones Act, saying it could help get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island more quickly and at less cost.
At an emotional news conference, lawmakers called for more.
“Our Puerto Rican brothers and sister are American citizens,” Democratic New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez said. “They have fought in every conflict, they have shed blood, they have died for our freedoms. It is morally incumbent upon us to help them.”
Meanwhile, a FEMA shipment arrived with food and water about 50 miles south of San Juan on Wednesday. There are 20 helicopters bringing supplies to the island.
Forty-four of the island’s 69 hospitals are now operational, and the Army Corp of Engineers is working to restore power to everyone else. Ten thousand government relief workers are on the island, including 7,200 U.S. troops.
“We’re American citizens. We’re not better than anyone, but we’re not worse than anyone,” one woman said.
Patience is in short supply for cash as well. Residents have had to wait in long lines at scattered ATMs or the few banks that remain open and even those are operating with reduced hours.
Finding fuel to get to the help has also been a mess with lines to buy gasoline stretching for miles.
“This is our third day getting gas,” said resident Marybeth Cardenas. “It’s just that with the tanks, they just hold very little.”
More than 3,000 shipping containers sit at the port of San Juan are full of supplies that Jose Ayala, vice president of Crowley Shipping Services, says could help more than half a million Puerto Ricans. But it’s been a challenge them to the people.
“Unless trucking companies start showing up, unfortunately there is nothing that we can do,” Ayala said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says the storm caused a shortage of truck drivers to deliver the essentials.
“The bus drivers that would traditionally take these foods, they don’t — they’re not up here,” he said. “We can’t find them or reach them.”
Looting has also become a problem. Dozens of people were caught on surveillance video breaking into a grocery store and stealing items.
Meanwhile, New Jersey rabbi Norman Patz is working the phones from his home in North Caldwell. He was in San Juan preparing to lead part of the U.S. territory’s 100,000 member Jewish population in Rosh Hashanah services when Maria hit.
“There’s no air, there’s no light, no circulation, no running water,” he said.
He arrived back home in New Jersey on Wednesday night to help coordinate relief efforts from the mainland.
“You asked me what I could do here that I couldn’t do there. That’s to push the major organizations to say, if you want to do social justice, right now,’” he told Moore.
Patz plans to return to Puerto Rico in December.
On Staten Island, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell met someone else compelled to help the storm victims.
As if he’s not busy enough with his day job as a police officer, Vincenzo Trabolse is also collecting items to send to Puerto Rico. On Thursday, he came for donations at the nonprofit Where to Turn.
“Kids clothing, baby supplies, diapers — stuff like that,” he told Haskell.
Trabolse volunteers with NYPD Cares. It’s a group that helps current and former cops with special needs children.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said of helping the storm victims.
The items will be packed into a container and shipped to the island.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was also on his way to Puerto Rico on Thursday to assess the damage and federal response.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)