Massachusetts lawmaker waiting for word on family in Puerto Rico

BOSTON MA.11/ 14 / 2012: In the center Chairman of the Joint Hearing, State Representative Jeffrey Sanchez  ( back to camera on the right is) Dr Madeleine Biondolillo, Director, Massachusetts Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality and speaking is  Dr Judy Ann Bigby, Secretary Executive Office of Health and Human Services AT THE STATE HOUSE.....Massachusetts lawmakers open public hearings on state public health dept's oversight of pharmacies in wake of national fungal meningitis outbreak linked to Framingham pharmacy. State health commisssioner, president of the pharmacy board and other top pharmacy leaders slated to testify ( David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo ) SECTION: HEALTH & SCIENCE  TOPIC 15meningitis(1)
State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez. –David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe, File

BOSTON (AP) — A top Massachusetts lawmaker said Monday he was still waiting for word on the fate of relatives in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last week.

“The apocalypse hit Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is screaming for help, said Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, a Boston Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. “People are worried that their calls will not be heard.”

Members of his late father’s family live in a mountainous region cut off by flooding and mudslides and are unable to contact the outside world because communication lines are down, Sanchez said.

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A desperate humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the island territory of more than 3 million U.S. citizens, leaving many towns without fresh water, fuel, electricity or phone service.

“The federal government has an obligation to the United States citizens of Puerto Rico, period,” said Sanchez, who stopped short of criticizing the U.S. response but noted that the disaster in the wake of Maria has not garnered the same attention as the hurricanes that recently struck Texas and Florida.

Sanchez called for the repeal or suspension of the Jones Act, a century-old law that restricts the delivery of cargo from foreign countries into Puerto Rico, so that more aid can flow into the island. He said he is worried about bureacratic delays occurring after ports are reopened.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, a Democratic candidate for governor, called on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday to deploy the Massachusetts National Guard “as soon as possible” to help.

“Puerto Rico is America, and no part of our country should feel ignored in a time of crisis this severe,” said Warren, who noted in a statement that more than a quarter of a million Massachusetts residents are of Puerto Rican descent.

Baker said Monday he cannot send National Guard members without a specific request from federal agencies coordinating rescue efforts.

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“No one has suggested that sending the National Guard to Puerto Rico would be helpful,” the governor said, adding that the best way for Massachusetts residents to lend assistance is to send cash to the Red Cross or other qualified relief agencies.

Baker said the wife of Puerto Rico’s governor emphasized that point during a brief conversation by satellite phone with Baker’s wife, Lauren.