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Trump administration temporarily lifts restriction on foreign ships delivering goods to Puerto Rico

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Thursday thanked the Trump administration for helping the island cope with the devastation of Hurricane Maria after the president, facing criticism that he had not done enough, agreed to waive a federal law restricting foreign ships from transporting cargo to the U.S. territory.

The governor promised a more rapid, coordinated response in coming days.

"The federal government and the president are aware of what's happening here, and they have responded to our petitions quickly with a compromise to help the situation in Puerto Rico," Rossello said at a Thursday briefing in the San Juan convention center.

In addition to federal aid, Rossello said 17 states have sent disaster response teams to assist the recovery.

The convention center was converted into an emergency operations center after the hurricane made landfall Sept. 20. Rossello was flanked Thursday by Federal Emergency Management Agency and military officials who are supporting Puerto Rico's response to the crisis.

The federal government waived the Jones Act restrictions after recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida to aid relief efforts, but not immediately for Puerto Rico, where the island's 3.4 million residents are still facing shortages of water, food, medicine and other basic supplies more than a week after the storm.

Several federal legislators this week requested that the Trump administration waive the law temporarily.

Rossello said he expects the law -- which restricts foreign-flagged ships from delivering goods to U.S. ports -- will be suspended for at least a week, as it was in those two states. The Trump administration said the waiver was effective immediately.

How much the waiver of the Jones Act will help Puerto Rico remains to be seen as other problems persist such as blocked roads and a lack of capability to move supplies already available on the island.

Containers have languished at ports here even as residents complained of shortages of gas, food, water and other staples. Much of the island remains without electricity or cellphone service. Conditions worsened this week, as hospitals across the island closed due to broken generators and lack of fuel.

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