As residents of Puerto Rico continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, much of the needed aid sent to the island has yet to make it into their hands. Instead, cargo container after cargo container — holding things like meals, first aid materials, and other items — remain at port because the system in place to move the goods has been equally devastated by the storm.
Bloomberg reports that despite efforts to ease the transport of emergency materials to the island — such as the recent 10-day waiver of the 1920 Jones Act, which limited the way shipments could be made to Puerto Rico — little in the way of aid has actually reached residents.
Instead of heading to residents in need, the emergency supplies packed into thousands of cargo containers remain untouched near docks, in part because of a lack of workers to unpack them and infrastructure no longer stable enough to transport or house the goods.
“There are plenty of ships and plenty of cargo to come into the island,” Mark Miller, a spokesman for Crowley, an operator of one Puerto Rico dock, tells Bloomberg. “From there, that’s where the supply chain breaks down — getting the goods from the port to the people on the island who need them.”
Trouble transporting the aid comes from a combination of issues on the island: a lack of workers, damaged infrastructure, and a lack of power.
For instance, many of the buildings that would typically be used to house the aid after it is removed from the containers have been damaged and remain without electricity.
Additionally, while Bloomberg notes that trucks sit ready to transport aid, there aren’t drivers available to move them. Instead, many of these people are now caring for their families, cleaning their properties, and abiding by the island’s 7 p.m. curfew.
But even if there were drivers, they likely would run into issues with the island’s infrastructure, as the large trucks used to transport goods across the island are no longer able to navigate unstable, washed out roads or the roads are simply impassable thanks to downed power lines.
Retired army lieutenant general Russel Honore tells Bloomberg that Puerto Rico is in need of assistance from the U.S. military, which could provide ships, aircraft, and trucks that could move the supplies to communities.
Waiting For Space
Another issue affecting the ability to get relief to victims of the storm is the abundance of retailers’ goods sitting on docks.
Bloomberg reports that the storage space used by Crowley is currently housing thousands of containers full of products meant for retailers’ shelves.
The company is trying to get those containers moved in order to make room for aid supplies.