The Trump administration declared Thursday that its relief efforts in Puerto Rico are succeeding, but people on the island said help was scarce and disorganized while food supplies dwindled in some remote towns eight days after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of 3.4 million people.
President Donald Trump cleared the way for more supplies to head to Puerto Rico by issuing a 10-day waiver of federal restrictions on foreign ships delivering cargo to the island. And House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account would get a $6.7 billion boost by the end of the week.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke declared that “the relief effort is under control.”
“It is really a good news story, in terms of our ability to reach people,” she told reporters in the White House driveway.
Outside the capital, San Juan, people said that was far from the truth.
“I have not received any help, and we ran out of food yesterday,” said Mari Olivo, a 27-year-old homemaker whose husband was pushing a shopping cart with empty plastic gallon jugs while their two children, 9 and 7, each toted a large bucket. They stood in line in a parking lot in the town of Bayamon near the hard-hit northern coast, where local police used hoses to fill up containers from a city water truck.
“I have not seen any federal help around here,” said Javier San Miguel, a 51-year-old accountant.
The House speaker announced that the FEMA’s disaster relief account would get “a huge capital injection” of $6.7 billion by the end of the week to help Puerto Rico recover. Ryan noted that Trump had waived a matching funds requirement, which means the cash-strapped island won’t have to contribute to the initial costs of the federal assistance. The Wisconsin Republican said he expects the Trump administration to send Congress a request for a long-term recovery package once damage assessments are conducted.
“We will quickly act on that request,” Ryan said.
Duke, the acting homeland security secretary, had waived a law known as Jones Act earlier this month to help ease fuel shortages in the U.S. Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That order included Puerto Rico but expired last week, shortly after Maria struck. The nearly century-old Jones Act bars foreign-flagged ships from carrying cargos from U.S. port to another.
The Trump administration initially said a waiver was not needed for Puerto Rico because there were enough U.S.-flagged ships available to ferry goods to the island.