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Officials press Trump administration on response to Maria

Alex Daugherty and Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Weather News

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats have a clear message for President Donald Trump: Puerto Rico is now a humanitarian crisis.

Large portions of the U.S. territory are without power and basic services one week after Hurricane Maria swept over the island as a Category 4 hurricane. Politicians who have spent time on the ground in Puerto Rico since the storm, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez, are urging the Trump administration to take every action available to help more than 3 million U.S. citizens.

"Our conventional method to respond to a storm requires the federal government to kind of plug in with the existing emergency response ... and work through them to distribute aid," Rubio said. "That model probably won't work as well, in fact I don't think it will work on the situation in Puerto Rico."

Rubio said it takes five days for supplies to reach Puerto Rico by barge from Miami and seven days from Jacksonville, Fla., making it tough to get much-needed medical supplies and aid there quickly. Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Miami, while countries like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are closer.

Trump said the situation in Puerto Rico is serious and that there isn't an easy solution.

"That place was just destroyed," Trump said on Wednesday. "That's not a question of 'Gee, let's dry up the water. Let's do this or that.' That is a really tough situation. I feel so badly for those people."

But the Trump administration has not waived a U.S. law that would allow foreign vessels to assist in Puerto Rico's relief effort. The Jones Act, a law that requires the delivery of goods between U.S. ports to be done by U.S.-owned and -operated ships, was waived in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and in Florida after Hurricane Irma to allow for more efficient fuel delivery.

"That is critical, particularly for fuel," Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said to CNN, adding that he expects the Trump administration to eventually waive the law. "One of the considerations right now is the priority of getting fuel, diesel, gasoline, all across the island. Right now we have enough fuel. We're limited by the transportation logistics, but at some point, of course, getting fuel into the island is going to be critical so that we can have the major functions of telecoms, hospitals, water, to be running appropriately."

Trump said he's thinking about rescinding the Jones Act in Puerto Rico, but he will take into consideration the interests of the U.S. shipping industry.

"We're thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don't want the Jones Act lifted," Trump said. "And we have a lot of ships out there right now."

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