Food, Water, Fuel Still Priorities for Puerto Rico; 9K Military Now Helping Effort

WASHINGTON --

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello briefed reporters today on progress the unified collaboration of commonwealth and federal officials has made in delivering aid to the people of the island following Hurricane Maria.

A soldier watches a child carrying a case of water away from a helicopter.
A Puerto Rico Army National Guardsman looks after a child carrying water in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, Sept. 29, 2017, while helping supply food and water to the community in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. José Ahiram Díaz-Ramos
A soldier watches a child carrying a case of water away from a helicopter. Water Carrier
A Puerto Rico Army National Guardsman looks after a child carrying water in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, Sept. 29, 2017, while helping supply food and water to the community in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. José Ahiram Díaz-Ramos

The governor briefed from San Juan ahead of President Donald J. Trump's scheduled visit to view the devastation later today.

"Our priorities are still to sustain and maintain life -- making sure water and food get to the different areas in Puerto Rico," he said. Other lines of effort include the distribution of fuel, maintaining health care, restoring telecommunications, restoring the energy grid and restoring water and sewage system.

The number of Defense Department personnel in Puerto Rico jumped again with about 9,000 personnel on the island, the governor said. They are helping mainly in the areas of aviation, logistics and medical support, said he added.

"That number is expected to increase as well," Rossello said. 

More Help Forthcoming

The governor said he is expecting 700 more personnel arriving as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact signed among the states. "These come from 20 EMACs that have been approved already, and that number is expected to increase significantly," Rossello said.

VIDEO | 00:57 | Troop Levels Increase in Puerto Rico

DoD personnel continue to build a logistics system to deliver food, water and fuel to communities, he said. DoD personnel are also working in medical support – a capability that will be augmented by the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which arrives in San Juan today.

U.S. Transportation Command is airlifting mobile cellular telecommunications equipment to Puerto Rico to restore islandwide communications. All airports are open, and with the facilities at Roosevelt Roads now operating, all critical seaports are now open, officials said. 

The number of military vertical lift aircraft will grow from 57 to 80 with the addition of eight MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and two UH-60 helicopters, as well as nine MH-60 and four CH-53 helicopters that the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp is bringing.

VIDEO | 01:17 | Puerto Rico Governor: Vehicles at Staging Areas to Distribute Supplies

Grocery stores, big-box stores and gas stations are reopening, Rossello said. Many of the flooded areas in San Juan have been drained, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is handing out tarps to residents so they can begin to protect their homes and belongings.

Getting to isolated communities in the island's interior is making progress as roads and bridges and landslides are overcome, the governor said. In the meantime, aviation assets – many of them military – are getting needed commodities into these areas until land routes can be established.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)


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