PUERTO RICO (AP) — The U.S. Defense Department was working around the clock to deliver humanitarian assistance to storm-stricken Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a military spokesman said Monday.
The Navy’s USS Kearsarge, in addition to conducting medical evacuations and helping with relief supplies, ferried Marine and Navy teams into Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, to clear main roads and the airfield to bolster air support to the overall relief effort, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning.
Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. island territory of 3 million people last week as a major Category 4 storm, ripping away rooftops, destroying crops and blacking out power to virtually the entire island. Electricity had still not been restored by Monday, and officials who oversee the already poorly functioning power grid have said it could be weeks or months until power is fully restored.
The U.S. military also is helping in Puerto Rico by providing generators and the fuel to run them, Manning said. Eight Army UH-60 helicopters from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, are being flown to San Juan international airport to increase the capacity for distributing relief supplies.
Separately, Thomas LaCrosse, the Pentagon’s director of defense support to civilian authorities, told reporters Monday that sending the Navy’s East Coast-based hospital ship, the Comfort, to Puerto Rico was considered but determined not to be the best option for providing additional medical assistance. He said there is no Puerto Rican port deep enough to handle the Comfort, so it was deemed more efficient and effective to bring doctors and other medical personnel directly to the island by air.
Also Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello thanked President Donald Trump and the federal government for assisting Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The governor praised the federal effort in a news conference with Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long and Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert.
Rossello said FEMA has done a “phenomenal job” with assistance that has included water and diesel fuel for generators. Long said that about 10,000 U.S. federal employees are on the island helping with recovery five days after the Category 4 storm struck.
In other developments, the confirmed death toll has risen to 27 on the small island of Dominica, police said, with 27 others reported missing. Maria smashed into that small island Sept. 18 as a major hurricane before striking Puerto Rico.
Security forces in Dominica also said they have now controlled looting that plagued the hurricane-battered island in recent days. The island has been under a 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew since Maria hit, causing severe damage. Police say they have arrested 120 people, most for violating the curfew.
In Washington, House Speaker Paul Ryan has pledged that federal authorities will ensure that the people of Puerto Rico “have what they need.” Lawmakers approved $15 billion in hurricane relief after Hurricane Harvey caused massive destruction in Texas.
On Monday afternoon, Maria’s large core was moving north over the Atlantic hundreds of miles (kilometers) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was expected to move well east of the U.S. coast over the coming days, generating large ocean swells and rough surf along much of the Eastern seaboard. It was expected to become a tropical storm on Tuesday night.
Hurricane Lee, meanwhile, wandered hundreds of miles (kilometers) out at sea in the open Atlantic, posing no threat to land.
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