U.S. Army Takes Over Massive Mission to Save Puerto Rico

More than a week after Hurricane Maria, the response is finally being federalized as the island struggles to distribute supplies and restore power.

Credit: Sean Galbreath/U.S. Navy via Getty

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The U.S. Army will take over recovery operations in Puerto Rico, Col. Jorge Santini of Puerto Rico's National Guard state command told The Daily Beast. The announcement is expected Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Northern Command appointed Army Brig. Gen. Richard Kim on Wednesday to oversee operations. The Army will oversee every facet of the massive mission and coordinate with the National Guard, FEMA, and Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s office, Santini said. Approximately 2,600 U.S. military personnel and Guard members are currently involved in Hurricane Maria relief efforts, the Pentagon said.

"We need more manpower, more resources, more help, quickly and efficiently," Santini said. "We needed to federalize the recovery plan."

Ret. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the military effort in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, told NPR on Thursday morning and far more troops are needed.

“Puerto Rico is a bigger and tougher mission than Katrina,’ Honore said, adding 20,000 federal troops and 40,000 National Guard were under his command. Honore said twice as many are needed for Puerto Rico.

“We started moving about four days too late,” Honore said.

Earlier Thursday, President Donald Trump temporarily suspended the Jones Act, a 1920 law that prohibits foreign ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports. Even without it, San Juan’s port filled with 2,000 containers that can’t get out of because of a shortage of diesel fuel for trucks and a shortage of drivers.  

Meanwhile, the banking system has been paralyzed without electricity. Everyone has been living on cash only. Now the few ATMs have limited withdrawals to $100 down from $500. Banco Popular has offered to give $50 per person in need to get by and said the “loan” will be withdrawn from accounts when things return to normal.

Meanwhile, the airport has been transformed into a refugee camp of stranded tourists bordering nervous breakdowns. Hundreds stand in lines with a hopeful desperate look, while hundreds others stay outside. It’s expected some 30 flights will come in on Friday. One man said he had to pay as much $1,500 to get to the States.

Heavy storms are expected this weekend, President Trump will arrive on Tuesday, which will effectively close the airport.