Relief efforts are underway in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Trump administration said that the first priorities are saving lives and providing core necessities such as food, water, and shelter.
“The President made clear that there is no such thing as over-responding,” states a Sept. 27 White House readout of President Donald Trump’s meetings with senior U.S. officials on the disaster response.
It adds that President Donald Trump told “all elements” of the federal government to “plan for long-term support to the governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
The U.S. military, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. National Guard, and other agencies have been sent to assist in relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, for which Trump approved disaster declarations on Sept. 20. Troops are rescuing survivors, giving medical aid, distributing food and water, and helping clear debris, among other efforts.
Soon after the disaster hit, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Twitter he has asked the Trump administration and U.S. Congress “to help Puerto Rico rebuild.”
Rosselló and other Puerto Rican officials have since applauded the response of the Trump administration.
On Sept. 26, he briefed Trump on the situation via video teleconference, and according to a White House readout, he “thanked President Trump for his leadership and quick action to approve emergency declarations for Puerto Rico.”
Trump is scheduled to visit affected areas on Oct. 3, and said before leaving for Indiana on Sept. 27 that “Puerto Rico is a very difficult situation. I mean, that place was just destroyed.”
He said assisting Puerto Rico is not merely a question of just drying up floodwater or doing basic works, noting “that place was flattened. That is a really tough situation. I feel so bad for those people.”
When asked by reporters whether he plans to lift the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920), which requires that goods and services provided to Puerto Rico by ship are done by United States-flagged ships, Trump said “we’re thinking about that,” but noted “we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
The next day, on Sept. 28, the Trump administration approved a waiver of the Jones Act for 10 days, which will cover all products being shipped to Puerto Rico. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in a press release, it will ensure “all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico.”
Defense Department spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said on Sept. 27, according to the Pentagon, that due to the “changing scope and conditions” in Puerto Rico, the U.S. military is moving from a short-term sea-based response to a “predominantly land-based effort designed to provide robust, longer-term support.”
Davis said that at the time, 59 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals were “operational with unknown status,” close to 44 percent of the population had no drinking water outside of U.S. aid, the San Juan Airport and nine other airports remained open, and three of the five local seaports were open but with some restrictions.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Davis said the situation “continues to improve,” and said the local governor has shifted from response to recovery efforts. He said the J.F. Luis Hospital in St. Croix was deemed “structurally sound,” power was restored to Schneider Hospital, airports were open only for military and relief efforts, and eight seaports were open but with some restrictions.