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CBP Continues Massive Response to Hurricane Maria

Release Date: 
October 1, 2017

Agents with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk crew distributes much-needed supplies to residents of Puerto Rico as they conduct post-Hurricane Maria humanitarian operations and assessments.
Agents with a U.S. Customs and
Border Protection, Air and Marine
Operations, Black Hawk crew
distributes much-needed supplies to
residents of Puerto Rico as they conduct
post-Hurricane Maria humanitarian
operations and assessments. Photo
Credit: Rob Brisley

CBP Air and Marine Operations (AMO) is helping the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to begin restoring service to an estimated 3.5 million residents. As of Sunday, just five percent of Puerto Rico’s residents have electricity, reports The Los Angeles Times.  Meanwhile, increasing the amount of fuel and other vital supplies that can be transported to the island along with handling the heavy stream of CBP evacuees is still a challenge but quickly improving.

Friday, an AMO AS350 A-Star helicopter crew began inspecting for damaged power lines along the western coast of Puerto Rico. The condition of the lines determines which grids can be switched on. Power is critical to restoring water and keeping hospitals open and officials at the power authority reported the flight saved the company weeks of assessments, said Aviation Enforcement Agent Brendan Manley. “It was a very important flight,” he noted.

To date, 100,057 bottles of water and 44,454 meals, ready to eat, or MREs, have been moved to Puerto Rico and about 500 gallons of unleaded gasoline arrive each day, with charter transports and ships doing the bulk of the work. CBP will charter five more MD-80 passenger aircraft and six more cargo aircraft to fly the food, water and supplies now stockpiled at AMO’s hangar at Homestead Air Reserve Base, said Diane Sabatino, the director of field operations for Tampa and Miami and CBP’s lead field coordinator for the relief effort.

Evacuees depart an AMO P-3 aircraft upon arriving at Homestead Air Reserve Base.
Evacuees depart an AMO P-3 aircraft
upon arriving at Homestead Air
Reserve Base. Photo Credit: Region IV

The extra airlift, Sabatino said, will allow more CBP employees and their dependents to leave Puerto Rico on the empty aircraft returning to Homestead. Evacuations are ongoing for employees and their dependents, “everyone within a household,” said Sabatino. Once they arrive in Miami they’re shuttled to area hotels.

As of today, 380 CBP employees and dependents have been flown out of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A charter aircraft has now been set aside to transport evacuees and that will push the total number to at least 500 by the end of Sunday, said Sabatino.

Considering direct employees, dependents and their families—CBP could be handling an estimated 5,000 people, Sabatino noted. Starting Monday, CBP will have a permanent team at Homestead devoted to processing evacuees.

CBP’s footprint in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has been staggering. Allowing for employee checks and support, communications, service to stakeholders, rescues, medical responses, and other logistics, over 1,600 ground and air missions have been completed by CBP as of Sept. 30. To handle all that activity and continued requests, Region IV established four forward deployed operations command centers in Ramey Sector, San Juan, St. Croix and St. Thomas.

Region IV consists of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It also has jurisdictions over CBP assets in the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Aruba and Central America.

Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP set up a logistics command center at Puerto Rico’s Aguadilla airport. Air conditioning has been restored using generators, but the carpets have been ripped out because of mold. In addition, 15

 St. Thomas also sustained severe damage from Hurricane Maria and CBP officers are on site performing assessments, checking on employees helping to restore their homes.
St. Thomas also sustained severe
damage from Hurricane Maria and
CBP officers are on site performing
assessments, checking on employees
helping to restore their homes. Photo
Credit: Region IV

Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) and 15 Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) agents arrived at the airport to provided security and medical assistance.

CBP’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT) continues to improve communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Saturday, an OIT assessment team traveled to St. Thomas and St. Croix. In San Juan and Aguadilla, OIT helped install satellite dishes and connections for BORTAC radios and made needed repairs.

Last modified: 
October 1, 2017