By Jim Garamone, DOD News

-This story was updated on Oct. 5

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello briefed reporters on progress the unified collaboration of commonwealth and federal officials has made in delivering aid to the people of the island following Hurricane Maria.

“Our priorities are still to sustain and maintain life – making sure water and food get to the different areas in Puerto Rico,” he said. Other lines of effort include the distribution of fuel, maintaining health care, restoring telecommunications, restoring the energy grid and restoring water and sewage system.

The number of Defense Department personnel in Puerto Rico jumped again with about 11,000 personnel on the island, the governor said. They are helping mainly in the areas of aviation, logistics and medical support, said he added.

“That number is expected to increase as well,” Rossello said.

More Help Forthcoming

The governor said he is expecting 700 more personnel arriving as part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact signed among the states. “These come from 20 EMACs that have been approved already, and that number is expected to increase significantly,” Rossello said.

DOD personnel continue to build a logistics system to deliver food, water and fuel to communities, he said. DOD personnel are also working in medical support – a capability that will be augmented by the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, which arrived in San Juan Oct. 3.

U.S. Transportation Command is airlifting mobile cellular telecommunications equipment to Puerto Rico to restore islandwide communications. All airports are open, and with the facilities at Roosevelt Roads now operating, all critical seaports are now open, officials said.

The number of military vertical lift aircraft will grow from 57 to 80 with the addition of eight MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and two UH-60 helicopters, as well as nine MH-60 and four CH-53 helicopters that the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp is bringing.

Grocery stores, big-box stores and gas stations are reopening, Rossello said. Many of the flooded areas in San Juan have been drained and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is distributing tarps to residents so they can begin to protect their homes and belongings.

Reaching isolated communities in the island’s interior is improving as roads and bridges and landslides become passable. In the meantime, aviation assets – many of them military – are getting needed commodities into these areas until land routes can be established.