President Donald Trump ordered the Jones Act to be waived for shipments to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico immediately at the request of Governor Ricardo Rossello, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday.
The waiver will be in effect for 10 days and cover all products being shipped to Puerto Rico, Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said in an email.
“It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement.
The 1920 Jones Act is a maritime law requiring shipments of goods between two U.S. ports to be made with American-flagged vessels, manned by American crews. Pressure was mounting on the Trump administration to lift the restrictions regarding supplies being sent to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the U.S. territory more than a week ago.
After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the past month, the Trump administration temporarily waived the statute to ensure that gasoline could move without delay. When the Homeland Security Department earlier this week declined to issue a similar waiver for Puerto Rico, it said port capacity was the bigger obstacle. As of Wednesday, six of 15 ports on the island remained closed.
Rossello thanked Trump on Thursday on Twitter.
Thousands of cargo containers bearing millions of emergency meals and other relief supplies have been piling up on San Juan’s docks since Saturday. The mountains of material may not reach storm survivors for days.
The island of 3.4 million is in the throes of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, without electricity, mobile-phone service or clean water. Puerto Rico’s power grid went dark during the hottest season of year and may stay down for weeks or months. Of the commonwealth’s 69 hospitals, only 11 have power and fuel. Officials and residents warn of disease without access to clean water.
The devastation is the result of the third deadly hurricane within the past month to confront the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Defense Department.
“What we are seeing right now is the biggest extent of devastation in the history of Puerto Rico,” Rossello told MSNBC Thursday. ”What we need is all hands on deck.”
Rossello said Trump has been “very diligent” in being in contact with the governor every day. He also said that offers of assistance have been received from several states.
— With assistance by Laura Blewitt, and Catherine Traywick