FEMA chief: Feds 'working tirelessly around the clock' to aid in Maria recovery
© Getty Images
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long said Tuesday that federal forces are "working tirelessly around the clock" to help with the disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.
"The federal government is working tirelessly around the clock to unify the efforts to support [Puerto Rico] Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló as well as [U.S. Virgin Islands] Gov. [Kenneth] Mapp with the initiatives," Long said during a news conference. 
Long said the agency is also working with the Department of Defense as part of a "robust sustainment force" of thousands to help distribute valuable resources. 
Hurricane Maria dealt significant damage to the U.S. territory's power grid, leaving much of the island without power in an outage that officials say could last up to six months. According to the Pentagon, 44 percent of Puerto Rico's 3.5 million residents are also without access to clean drinking water. 
"This is a logistically challenging and very unique event that the United States has not seen in a very, very long time, if ever," Long said. 
The FEMA administrator pointed out the logistical difficulties in sending aid to the storm-swept island, with only one working airport in the capital of San Juan. Teams are working to open up more airports so that emergency and commercial flights can bring in necessary resources and evacuate people from the island. 
"It's an island. We don't just drive trucks and resources onto an island," Long said. "You have to prioritize who accesses the island and what you're sending."
Long said that with the "diminished capacity" of local governments to respond to the damage, unlike in the previous Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the U.S. is "dramatically increasing the federal footprint that's there," to aid in recovery efforts.