Relief Effort In Puerto Rico Drags, Fuel Shortages Are Monumental More than a week after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's fuel shortage is affecting recovery efforts. Businesses and hospitals are low on diesel — leading to calls for FEMA to take over distribution.

Relief Effort In Puerto Rico Drags, Fuel Shortages Are Monumental

Relief Effort In Puerto Rico Drags, Fuel Shortages Are Monumental

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More than a week after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico's fuel shortage is affecting recovery efforts. Businesses and hospitals are low on diesel — leading to calls for FEMA to take over distribution.


President Trump is lifting a restriction on shipping to Puerto Rico. What he's waving is the Jones Act, which is a century-old law that limits which vessels can get into the island's ports. A statement from the Department of Homeland Security says the waiver will ensure all options are available to deliver aid to people in Puerto Rico, people who urgently need help after Hurricane Maria. Power remains out across almost all of the island. Clean water is hard to come by. And now a fuel shortage is hurting businesses and critical institutions like hospitals. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now with the latest from San Juan. Hey there, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Now, we had heard from the governor of Puerto Rico that there is enough gas on the island. So what exactly is the problem here?

ALLEN: Well, the governor now is saying that he believes the problem is there's really not enough trucks. Logistics is turning into a major issue here in this recovery. And the first place it's starting is with diesel fuel is that so many of the businesses, large institutions like hospitals, government buildings, they all have large diesel generators. And that's running short. They say there's enough diesel, but getting it out to the people who need it has been very difficult.

I visited a hospital this - just yesterday that had run out of diesel earlier this week. They had to - they lost all their power. They had to actually send patients home. They were able to get a delivery from the Army - protected by the Army National Guard later and were able to restart it. But they say that delivery only lasts until Saturday. They don't know what's going to happen until then. And it's not just the hospitals. The telecommunications industry sent a letter to President Trump yesterday asking him to send in federal authorities to oversee the delivery of diesel. They say that it's stopping the functioning of the cell systems. You don't have cell service in many areas throughout Puerto Rico, very spotty service here in San Juan.

KELLY: And what about - I mean, as you move around the island, are you seeing evidence of, you know, federal authorities? Are you seeing FEMA and relief groups like the Red Cross? Are they out and about and able to move?

ALLEN: Well, you - there are certainly a lot of authorities here on the island. If you go to the central command post at the convention center here in San Juan, it is amazing the number of people here you see from FEMA, from every federal agency. But on the island in the streets, very little evidence. My producer, Marisa Penaloza, and I've spent this week, you know, going around the island. We've not seen one shred of evidence of aid reaching people from off the island. And that's not just from, you know, federal aid, but we're talking, you know, aid from all the Puerto Ricans, the relief groups in the United States who are trying to get aid in here. None of that is reaching anywhere yet, and it goes back to that logistics issue.

KELLY: You managed to visit one children's hospital, I gather. What did you find there?

ALLEN: Right. We visited San Jorge, a children's hospital here in San Juan, and the vice president there, Domingo Cruz, spoke to this very issue. Here's what he had to say.

DOMINGO CRUZ: I have not seen the trucks. I have not seen the help. We have not felt the presence of the aid on the streets. It is not visible yet.

ALLEN: And the other thing, if you - if you visit the port here in San Juan, you'll see stacks of containers sitting there waiting to be delivered, but there aren't the trucks yet to deliver them.

KELLY: It sounds like just such a mess still more than a week after the hurricane blew through. Are there signs of progress, anything that is starting to work right?

ALLEN: Well, we're seeing very slow progress. The airport should get its power back today, which is a major plus. They've started expanding commercial flights there. And we'll see the first international flights come into the airport here in San Juan today, so that's all very, very positive. They hope to begin reestablishing some power around the island. But still, you're talking about only a very small portion of the island having - being connected the electrical grid, like 10 percent, something like that. No power throughout here, so that'll be a continuing struggle.

Beyond that, it's going to be slow. Some - there's more water being restored, but still half of the island doesn't have running water at least - more than half. So we're going have to wait and see. But what's - Domingo Cruz was telling us, the gentleman from the hospital, San Jorge, that we don't have the time to wait, that this is - we're looking at a humanitarian crisis here. Here's what he had to say.

CRUZ: If we don't get the help, something that is going to happen that is going to be a long-term problem for Puerto Rico, people are going to abandon the island.

ALLEN: We've spoken to people and heard this very same thing over and over again anecdotally. The people are saying, I'm thinking about going to stay with my relatives in Florida or in New York at least six months, maybe longer, until this all blows over. So that's an issue they're going to be looking at going ahead, and that's been an ongoing issue for years here in Puerto Rico, the brain drain, people leaving the island.

KELLY: That's NPR's Greg Allen, who has been all over the island and is giving us the latest there this morning from San Juan. Thanks so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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