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The White House has been stung by a criticism that it hasn't done enough to help hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico. So it's waiving an arcane rule that restricted which ships could bring goods to the island. Ships and planes are arriving with things residents need, but distributing equipment and goods around the island is still a big challenge. Here's NPR's Camila Domonoske.
CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Residents of Coamo, in southern Puerto Rico, have been standing in line for water that they can't even drink, distributed from tanks where it has been sitting stagnant for days. People are taking baths and washing their laundry in the river.
Juan Carlos Garcia is the mayor of Coamo. He says that people are running low on their food reserves and that hysteria is growing. He says barely any help has reached his community.
JUAN CARLOS GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).
DOMONOSKE: Five pallets of water.
GARCIA: That's it.
DOMONOSKE: There is drinking water in Puerto Rico. But Garcia says it hasn't arrived in Coamo. And he wants to know why. People all over the island are asking the same question. Where is the aid? Where is the gas? Where is the food in the stores? The answer is that a lot of it is sitting in the port of San Juan.
JOSE AYALA: The cargo is here. It has been delivered to Puerto Rico, over 9,500 containers. I'll say that today we're close to the 10,000 containers.
DOMONOSKE: Jose Ayala is the vice president of Crowley Puerto Rico. More than 3,000 of those containers were shipped here by his company.
AYALA: These containers are full of food - canned food that are going to the supermarkets. And they just can't get to the supermarkets. These containers are full of water. Some of them are full of ice. Containers are full of medicine. So just imagine people out there under so much need and there's this cargo here.
DOMONOSKE: Hurricane Maria destroyed houses and brought down power lines. And it also broke something invisible - Puerto Rico's supply chain. Ayala rattles off a list of problems - storm damage equipment, drivers who lost everything and need to care for their families, fuel shortages, debris in roads. And then for frozen food and medicine that needs to be kept cold...
AYALA: If you are lucky enough today to be able to get over what everything that I just mentioned, God knows if the final destination of the container has power.
DOMONOSKE: Even places with generators can't always get fuel for them. Puerto Rico's government says there's not a gas shortage, but there is a distribution problem. And problems distributing fuel mean problems distributing everything else, too.
That's an issue for FEMA. Relief materials get priority. And all the FEMA containers shipped by Crowley have been taken away from the port. But officials with the Department of Homeland Security say distribution within the island remains a challenge - a bigger challenge than getting supplies to the island.
Shipping is an issue for aid groups, too. The Salvation Army says fuel shortages necessitate, quote, "strategic decisions" about travel. And the distribution problem means empty shelves at stores and pharmacies and shuttered doors at restaurants across the island. Luis Melendez runs a small affordable restaurant near the town of Cayey.
LUIS MELENDEZ: Almost every business is just running out of storages. So we're just kind of running with what we have available.
DOMONOSKE: There's not much for sale at stores. And nearby farms can't fill the gap.
MELENDEZ: Fruits, vegetables suffer a lot. All the crops suffer a lot. So we just dealing with what we have.
DOMONOSKE: The military is working on clearing roads. FEMA says moving fuel is a top priority. Everyone is trying to fix the distribution problem. But Melendez says he's not expecting to buy goods like normal for at least another month. Camila Domonoske, NPR News, San Juan.
(SOUNDBITE OF OLAFUR ARNALDS' "NEAR LIGHT")
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