Puerto Ricans are grappling with a telecommunications blackout, but they can at least look forward to faster delivery of essential aid; President Trump lifted restrictions on foreign shipping, Thursday, to help ease the flow of fuel and supplies. Jillian Kitchener reports.
Nearly all cell phones across Puerto Rico display one frustrating message these days: NO SERVICE. A week after Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory, knocking out its electric grid and destroying cell towers and antennas, residents are frantically searching for places that DO have a signal… (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) UNIDENTIFIED RESIDENT FROM MOROVIS, PUERTO RICOSAYING: "The cell signal is really bad. In the area I live in, which is Morovis, this a real problem. Lots of people are looking for places trying to get a signal to speak to family members outside PuertoRico and in other places across the island. And word keeps spreading that 'hey such and such place has a signal." The territory's relative isolation is a huge impediment to finding a fix. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Irma slammed Florida, mobile phone companies were able to get personnel and equipment from other states to restore service within a week. But any heavy equipment must be sent to Puerto Rico by ship. Once there, moving it to distant parts of the island is tough due to damaged roads. On Thursday-the White House waiving the Jones Act-- loosening shipping regulations---and thereby allowing foreign ships to swiftly and cheaply deliver much needed supplies . SOME IN PUERTO RICO HAVE TRIED TO FILL THE VOID - radio station WAPA 680 has kept broadcasting. News host Luis Penchi says his station stayed on air because it has maintained its old analogue broadcasting capacity, which isn't dependant on electricity to carry a signal. Broadcasting more than 25 hours straight during the height of the storm, Penchi says "it was a mission God tasked me with." (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) WAPA RADIO NEWS ANCHORMAN LUIS PENCHI SAYING:iu "I didn't realize that I was the only one who was on the air. Other stations went off the air and still the majority of them haven't come back, so this station has basically been the only network on theradio that in these times has coverage for the whole country." WAPA has been delivering around the clock news, advice, messages and pleas for assistance from listeners desperate to connect with loved ones. Some have physically walked into the station to have messages read on the air… one of the only means of communication for the island's 3.4 million people.