Thousands of tourists and residents who have been stranded in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island nation were evacuated on cruise ships headed towards Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
Snaking queues formed at the harbor in San Juan ahead of Royal Caribbean International’s Adventure of the Seas departure.
On Thursday, 1,700 people evacuees were picked up from San Juan to board the ship. It will now move on to St Croix and St Thomas to pick up another 2,000 before making its way to Florida.
The company canceled its voyages last week and next week in order to free the ship up for relief missions. Norwegian Cruises has done the same and last week took supplies to affected islands.
There has been no indication yet of where they will be placed once they land in Florida.
The aid mission in Puerto Rico is ongoing and residents, despite receiving millions of dollars in donations and food supplies, are still living in abominable conditions.
One hindrance is the lack of drivers in the area and the fact that many of the roads remain blocked due to debris.
Thousands of people wait to board the 3,100 passenger Adventure of the Seas in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday. The Royal Caribbean International cruise ship will take them to Fort Lauderdale after picking up more people in the Caribbean
Evacuees included residents and tourists. It is not clear yet where they will go once they reach Fort Lauderdale
A little girl sits next to her suitcase, cradling a small pink backpack as she waits to board the ship. Others brought their dogs and what few possessions they could salvage from their homes
Raquel Rivera sits with Michael Gabriel on a bench next to the cruise ship on Thursday, waiting to board
Gary Flores and Tabatha Flores wait with thousands of others in the sweltering heat to be evacuated from Puerto Rico
The cruises were sent to the devastated island nation earlier this week with supplies once it was safe enough for them to sail. They will now evacuate people who have been stuck on the island which remains without power and with dwindling food and water
It means that much of the relief that has been sent is merely sitting in ports waiting to be distributed to the hardest-hit, most remote parts of the country.
Thousands of people who are staying on the island were forced to line up for stores opening on Thursday.
There were large queues outside one Walmart. Once inside, desperate shoppers were confronted with empty shelves.
While supplies are arriving en masse, the problem now lies in distribution.
Many of the island’s roads remain impassable and there are not enough drivers to be able to take them to some of the hardest-hit remote regions.
Sitting inside 9,500 containers in the Port of San Juan, the unused stockpile is only set to grow as President Trump waives a 97-year-old shipping law that will let more rations arrive.
Children shelter from the heat under a large umbrella on Thursday as they wait to board the cruise ship
On board the ship, there will be enough food and water for the evacuees. Above, Gale Maldonado grabs a coveted bottle of water as she waits to board the ship
Thousands wait with their suitcases to board the ship in San Juan in Puerto Rico on Thursday
There is a combination of tourists and residents stuck on Puerto Rico which has no power and limited food and water. Cash is running out on the island as desperate people pummel ATMs and with no electricity, it is impossible to use credit cards
With only 20 percent of the island’s truckers reporting back to work since Maria barreled over, the situation has been compounded by a diesel fuel shortage and the lack of a working cellphone network
‘When we say we that we don’t have truck drivers, we mean that we have not been able to contact them,’ said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.
This comes as the White House announced that President Trump had authorized a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter Thursday that Trump has authorized a waiver for the U.S. territory for the little-known federal law from 1920 that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports.
She said Trump was responding to a request from Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, and that the Jones Act waiver ‘will go into effect immediately.’
Advocates who pressed for the waiver have said it could get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island more quickly and at less cost.
However, shipping companies and humanitarian groups have voiced fears that the aid will only build up at port and not get out and around the island.
As part of the, 9.500 containers in the capital, 3,000 contain clothes, food, medicine and building supplies. However, only four-percent of the contents of those 3,000 have been distributed.
Thousands of people remain in Puerto Rico. Many lined up at a Walmart in San Juan on Thursday waiting for it to open. Once inside, they were confronted with bare shelves
Inside the supermarket, there is no bottled water left and customers are forced to pay with cash as credit card machines are down. Christian Mendoza (above) arrived in one to find there was no more water and only canned soda. He is seen counting his money, above
Food, water and other vital supplies have arrived in Puerto Rico, but shipments remain stranded as a lack of diesel is impeding shipments to be brought inland
Marines and local volunteers unload food from an MV-22 Osprey September 27, 2017 in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. The Department of Defense is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, in helping those affected by Hurricane Maria
Thousands of containers of vital supplies have arrived in Puerto Rico, but shipments remain stranded as truckers don’t have diesel or even gas to get to their jobs
An aerial photo shows people lining up at a gas station following damages caused by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Precious cargo now in full supply is stranded at the port as cell phone towers are down, so truckers aren’t reachable and broken roadways are hindering transportation
Relief: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that President Trump had issued a 10-day waiver on the Jones Act
By authorizing the waiver to the archaic shipping law, the White House hopes to loosen the rules on tariff costs that would be a significant help for recovery efforts from Hurricane Maria.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico more than a week ago and has left it without power and with little access to fuel and other supplies.
Republicans and Democrats had urged Trump to waive the Jones Act.
The Jones Act
-The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, now known as the Jones Act required goods shipped to the US to be carried by vessels built, owned and operated by Americans
-The Act aimed to support national maritime industry that could be mobilized for war or national emergency
-It also aimed to protect the American control over waterborne commerce
-Those in opposition to the Jones act have included officials in Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico as it increases shipping costs for goods from the US mainland
-The increased shipping costs in turn get passed onto consumers on the islands
-Supporters include pro-defense groups as well as members of the US shipping industry whose interests are protected by the Act
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke had waived the law earlier this month to help ease fuel shortages in the Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
That order included Puerto Rico, but expired last week shortly after Maria struck.
The Trump administration had said earlier this week a waiver was not needed for Puerto Rico because there were enough U.S.-flagged ships available to ferry goods to the island.
Trump told reporters Wednesday that his administration was looking at a new waiver, but he said, ‘We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.’
Governor Rossello responded on Twitter to Trump’s action Thursday: ‘Thank you @POTUS.’
This comes as Hurricane Maria which has knocked out power and water to Puerto Rico – leaves the island short of cash too.
The aftermath of the powerful storm has resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory’s economy that could last for weeks and has many people running seriously low on cash and worrying that it will become even harder to survive on this storm-ravaged island.
There are long lines at the banks that are open with reduced hours or the scattered ATMs that are operational amid an islandwide power outage and near total loss of telecommunications.
An aerial photo shows damage caused by Hurricane Maria with palms knocked over and leaning on each other showing a path of destruction in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Rows and rows of supplies sit at the port of Puerto Rico, but can’t be brought inland as several obstacles are in the way of truckers, such as a lack of diesel and destroyed roadways
US Marines and area residents unload food and drinking water from an MV-22 Osprey aircraft in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. Kearsarge is assisting with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria as the efforts to help those devastated by Hurricane Maria grows
A man removes items from his home Estancia Del Sol, outside of Rio Grande, after the hurricane destroyed it. Many people in the area have not received any aid one week after the hurricane Maria
Clients of Popular Bank of Puerto Rico wait in line at the Carolina Shopping Court branch to withdraw cash from their accounts. Many ATMs on the island are empty
US Coast Guard cutter is seen in port, as the White House has eased restrictions on shipments to the hurricane torn island
Engineer Octavio Cortes predicts it will only get worse because so many of the problems are inter-connected and cannot be easily resolved.
‘I don’t know how much worse it’s going to get,’ Cortes said as he joined other motorists stopping on a bridge over a river in northern Puerto Rico to catch a faint cellphone signal. ‘Right now it’s manageable, but I don’t know about next week or after that.’
The father of six typically works from home or travels around the world for his job, but neither approach is possible now because the power is still out for nearly all 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico and flights off the island are down to only a few each day.
While Cortes is OK for the moment, others don’t have nearly the same resources.
Cruzita Mojica is an employee of the Puerto Rico Treasury Department in San Juan. While she, like many public sector workers, has been called back to work she can’t go because she has to care for her elderly mother in the aftermath of the storm.
She got up at 3:30am Wednesday and went to four ATM machines only to find each one empty.
‘Of course I took out money before the hurricane, but it’s gone already,’ she said. ‘We’re without gasoline. Without money. Without food. This is a disaster.’
US Marines assigned to Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU), conduct route clearing with Navy Sailors and local civilians to assist in relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico
A woman and her grandson look at the destroyed wharf of Punta Santiago, Humacao, in the east of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, one week after Hurricane Maria hit the island
A toppled electronic billboard lies atop a house one week after the passage of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico
US Marines conduct route clearing operations with Navy Sailors and local civilians to assist in relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Maria
Surgical technician Dilma Gonzalez said she had only $40 left and her job hasn’t called people back to work yet in the capital.
‘Until they let us know otherwise, I’m not supposed to go back,’ she said with a shrug as she pressure washed the street in front of her house, sending muddy debris flying.
All are struggling with the overwhelming devastation of Hurricane Maria, which began tearing across the island early in the morning of Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. It destroyed the entire electricity grid while grinding up homes, businesses, roads and farms.
At least 16 people were killed. There still is no exact tally of the cost and full extent of the damage, but Gov. Ricardo Rossello says it will bring a complete halt to the economy for at least a month.
‘This is the single biggest, major catastrophe in the history of Puerto Rico, bar none, and it is probably the biggest hurricane catastrophe in the United States,’ Rossello said Wednesday as he delivered aid to the southern town of Salinas, whose mayor says 100 percent of the agriculture there was wiped out when the wind tore up plantain, corn, vegetables and other crops.
Antonia Garcia, a retiree who lives in the city of Bayamon, said she was down to her last $4. She spent a day using precious gas to look for an ATM that was in operation because she couldn’t get into her credit union, which was taking only 200 customers a day. ‘This has become chaotic,’ she said.
A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan Puerto Rico. Maria left widespread damage across Puerto Rico, with virtually the whole island without power or cell service
The White House has authorized a waiver to loosen restrictions on shipments to get supplies into hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was already struggling before the storm. The island has been in a recession for more than a decade, the poverty rate was 45 percent and unemployment was around 10 percent, higher than any US state.
Manufacturers of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, which are the most important segment of the economy, have been shedding jobs for years. Now everything from multinational companies to small businesses and ranches are scrambling to get enough fuel to run generators while their employees struggle to even get to work.
Before the storm, the island’s government was in the midst of bitter negotiations with creditors to restructure a portion of its $73 billion in debt, which the previous governor declared unpayable. Rossello appeared to warn the bondholders that the storm had made things worse. ‘Puerto Rico practically will have no income for the next month,’ he told reporters.
Making matters worse for many consumers is the fact that those food stores that are open, typically on reduced hours, are unable to process credit or bank cards or the local system of welfare payments. The businesses are insisting on cash, even though that is technically illegal.
Still, as in any economic crisis, there are people who find the upside. Christian Mendoza said the car wash where he works hasn’t re-opened so he has been selling bottled water, even without refrigeration. ‘The water hot and it still went like you wouldn’t believe,’ he said.
Another relative success story is Elpidio Fernandez, a 78-year-old who sells coconut and passion fruit ice cream from a pushcart on the streets of San Juan and has a supplier with a generator. He has made up to $500 on some days since the storm.
‘Business has multiplied by a thousand,’ he said, but he quickly added: ‘Even though I’m doing well, I don’t feel good because I know other people are suffering.’
Clients of Popular Bank of Puerto Rico wait in line at the Carolina Shopping Court branch to withdraw cash from their accounts after the passage of Hurricane Maria, in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. Because of the communications blackout caused by Maria, cash is the only way to buy gasoline and basic supplies