CBP is working to increase the tonnage of badly needed food, water and fuel being transported to Puerto Rico and expanding its capacity to evacuate families of employees from the devastated tropical island.
At the same time, U.S. Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations crews are searching the interior of Puerto Rico for families of employees and an Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Black Hawk helicopter crew rescued some residents stranded in a remote area. The medical emergency rescue happened after the helicopter flew over a building with the message “HELP” scrawled on the roof. After the aircraft landed, the agents walked along a washed out road to reach the stranded family.
As of Tuesday, 51,184 bottles of water and 25,345 meals ready-to-eat have been delivered by CBP in support of Hurricane Maria relief efforts. More than 100,000 lbs. of supplies are now stockpiled in AMO’s hanger at the Miami Air and Marine Operations Branch at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, just south of Miami. AMO P-3 and DHC-8 air crews are working strenuous 12-hour shifts shuttling supplies from Homestead to San Juan and Aguadilla, then returning to Miami with evacuees.
The circuit can take up to ten hours: about two hours to load the aircraft, a four-hour flight, at least a half hour to unload the supplies and then a four-hour return flight where the aircraft is refueled, reloaded and flown again to Puerto Rico with a fresh crew.
“We’re running a Berlin airlift,” remarked Jeff Sternberg, operations and surveillance group supervisor at AMO’s Miami Air and Marine Operations Branch, adding that four flights are launched every day.
Because AMO aircraft have limited payload capacity, CBP has reached out for heavy airlift assistance. The Coast Guard responded by flying supplies to Puerto Rico with C-27 and C-130 transport aircraft. In addition, the Air Force has loaned CBP a K-loader, a forklift that can be raised and lowered to quickly load cargo into an aircraft, and aluminum aviation shipping pallets that can each support 10,000 pounds of cargo.
More heavy airlift—charter 727s, capable of transporting about 35,000 lbs.—are being arranged to fly essential cargo from Homestead to Puerto Rico.
Currently 165 CBP Surge Capacity Force volunteers received training in Anniston, Alabama, and remain ready deploy where needed. Other volunteers are working at call centers in Carson City, Nevada and Denton, Texas. Some are already deployed to Texas, Florida and Georgia. Other federal agencies contributed similar volunteers. There are more than 2,000 volunteers working in recovery operations, said Peter Taranto, a CBP Emergency Operations Specialist.
To support communications, 25 satellite telephones have arrived in Miami for shipment to Puerto Rico, where as of today, 79 percent of the island remains without power.