US military beefs up relief efforts in Puerto Rico

By  | 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CBS) Eight days after Hurricane Maria flattened much of Puerto Rico, basic resources like food, water, fuel and medicine are increasingly hard to find and residents are desperate for supplies.

Thursday morning, under pressure from Congress, the Trump Administration moved to waive restrictions on foreign ships to allow deliveries from U.S. ports into Puerto Rico. Lawmakers say he was too slow to act and called for more.

The U.S. military is also helping. The nerve center for the military's humanitarian effort in Puerto Rico is floating just a few miles offshore. Sailors and Marines from the USS Kearsarge were on the island the morning after Maria hit.

"What we want to do is make sure that we can get large bulk commodities and responders and relief supplies in through those airports as well as through seaports," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Hughes, who is in charge of the mission.

No longer are they doing search and rescues missions they are now in relief mode, delivering vital supplies, generators, food, water, even tarps so people can try to get their lives back to normal.

But getting back to normal won't be easy. During a flight over the northeastern part of the island, we got a firsthand look at the damage and it's extensive. From the air, there were no relief crews in sight.

Petty Ofc. Rafael Reyes is part of the relief effort, but this mission is harder for the Puerto Rico native.

"Obviously, I am in the military so I have to stay headstrong, I have to stay in the game. I do reflect on my family that is on the island. There is no way that I couldn't. But I have faith," Reyes said.

Boats, planes and helicopters are constantly coming and going from the Kearsarge, working nonstop as new supplies come in.

"We are prepared to be here for as long as it takes to get the job done," Hughes said. "It's a noble mission and we're very happy to be here doing it."

More help is coming by land and by sea-- 4,000 soldiers and Army Corps engineers have arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The Navy is also sending their floating hospital, the Comfort, which should arrive next week.