SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — President Donald Trump cleared the way Thursday for more supplies to head to Puerto Rico and tweeted that relief was getting through, but on the island food and water remained scarce in devastated towns where a growing number of people decried the federal response as an uncoordinated disaster.
Nine days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Trump issued a 10-day waiver of federal restrictions on foreign shipments of cargo to the island. And House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account would get a $6.7 billion boost by the end of the week.
The developments came after Trump came under sharp criticism for what critics said was a too-slow response to a humanitarian crisis among Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents.
"The federal response has been a disaster," said lawmaker Jose Enrique Melendez, a member of Gov. Ricardo Rossello's New Progressive Party. "It's been really slow."
He said the Trump administration had focused more on making a good impression on members of the media gathered at San Juan's convention center than bringing aid to rural Puerto Rico.
"There are people literally just modeling their uniforms," Melendez said. "People are suffering outside."
Trump and his advisers defended the administration's response to the hurricane, which destroyed much of the island's infrastructure and left many residents desperate for fresh water, power, food and other supplies.
"The electric power grid in Puerto Rico is totally shot. Large numbers of generators are now on Island. Food and water on site," Trump tweeted early in the day.
But in many cases "on site" meant stored on pallets and in containers in sea- and airports far from the towns where Puerto Ricans desperately lined up for fresh water and pre-made meals being distributed by federal officials.
"I have not received any help, and we ran out of food yesterday," said Mari Olivo, a 27-year-old homemaker whose husband was pushing a shopping cart with empty plastic gallon jugs while their two children, 9 and 7, each toted a large bucket. They stood in line in a parking lot in the town of Bayamon on the hard-hit northern coast, where police used hoses to fill up containers from a city water truck.
"I have not seen any federal help around here," said Javier San Miguel, a 51-year-old accountant.
Bayamon Mayor Ramon Luis Rivera told The Associated Press that FEMA officials sent a truck with a limited amount of food on Monday. Rivera said he began distributing it to hard-hit rural areas.
"I don't wait," he said when asked whether federal officials helped with distribution.
Meanwhile, in the nearby fishing town of Cataño authorities said they would open a distribution point over the weekend to hand out food and water, nearly two weeks after the hurricane hit.
"We need food," said Maritza Gonzalez, a 49-year-old government worker.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said she signed the waiver of a federal law to clear the way for foreign-flagged ships to deliver supplies between U.S. ports. The nearly century-old measure, known as the Jones Act, has bolstered the U.S. shipping industry but made consumer goods much pricier and scarcer in this U.S. territory than on the mainland.
"You are seeing devastation in Puerto Rico. That is the fault of the hurricane," Duke told reporters in the White House driveway. "The relief effort is under control."