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U.S. Military Response in Puerto Rico Shifts to Longer-Term Effort

Sept. 28, 2017 (EIRNS)—A major adjustment is under way in the military response to the disaster in Puerto Rico.

"Given the changing scope and conditions, DoD [U.S. Department of Defense] will adjust its concept of operations in Puerto Rico and transition from a short term, sea-based response to a predominantly land-based effort designed to provide robust, longer term support to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and [to Puerto Rico],"

Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said, yesterday. U.S. Northern Command is deploying more robust command and control a well as logistical capabilities to the island, as a result. This includes the deployment of a land-based headquarters, headed by Brig. Gen. Richard Kim, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army North, who arrived on the island, yesterday.

Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of Homeland Security, called the deployment of the general a "big step forward," adding, in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Sept. 27, that his presence will help accelerate decision-making on the ground. "What DoD is doing is helping us get the supplies there, but also helping us open the access roads," Duke said. "They also are leading the debris removal, which is huge. We still have areas that we can not access by roads."

According to a Sept. 27 Pentagon news release, fuel distribution remains the top FEMA priority. Multiple DoD elements delivered fuel and continue route clearance operations. Fifty nine of 69 hospitals are operational with unknown status. Roughly 44% of the population remains without drinking water. The San Juan Airport and nine other airports are open. Three seaports are open and five are open with restrictions.

A new FEMA release issued yesterday heavily focuses on power restoration, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in, as part of a task force that also includes representatives of the Department of Energy, the power industry, and the government of Puerto Rico, which "is working aggressively to develop a holistic plan to assess damage, build power resources, and restore power to the grid." The focus of that effort, the release says,

"is restoring power to critical infrastructure including hospitals, airports and seaports, water treatment facilities, and communications."

Today, the White House announced that President Trump had issued a waiver of the Jones Act, which requires that all cargos shipped between U.S. ports be shipped on board U.S.-flagged vessels. Under the waiver, cargos from foreign ports can be delivered directly to Puerto Rico without passing through U.S. ports.