State prepping to help those fleeing Puerto Rico

State House News Service
Published: 9/28/2017 10:22:12 PM

Massachusetts is preparing to welcome Puerto Ricans temporarily or permanently fleeing their storm-ravaged island, Gov. Charlie Baker’s office announced Thursday.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the executive offices of Housing and Community Development, Health and Human Services and Education are convening as a task force to make sure the state is ready to help those seeking aid here after hurricanes Irma and Maria dealt devastating blows to Puerto Rico in quick succession.

Baker, who spoke with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Wednesday, said in a statement that the state was also “100% ready to send help to Puerto Rico, including personnel and equipment.”

“My heart breaks for the people of Puerto Rico, whose lives were turned upside down by the devastation of these merciless hurricanes,” Baker said. “Puerto Rican communities across Massachusetts have also been traumatized by images of the destruction and by fears that loved ones there are in danger. Massachusetts is ready to welcome disaster survivors and our administration is preparing to support those who seek temporary or permanent residence in Massachusetts.”

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, a Democrat running for governor, on Monday called on Baker to send the Massachusetts National Guard to Puerto Rico “as soon as possible” to help with relief efforts.

Both the National Guard and MEMA “have assets and personnel at the ready and can mobilize them post-haste if called upon to do so,” Public Safety and Security Secretary Dan Bennett said in Thursday’s press release.

The release said National Emergency Management Association officials were “strongly discouraging self-deployment of personnel and unsolicited donation of goods” because of “extreme logistical challenges” on the ground in Puerto Rico, including damaged infrastructure.

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced a 10-day waiver of the federal law, known as the Jones Act, that requires direct shipping between U.S. ports to be done by vessels that are American-built, owned by U.S. citizens and registered in the country.

“This waiver will ensure that over the next ten days, all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement. “It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms.”


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