FDNY and NYPD Teams Work to Aid Puerto Rican Village in Wake of Hurricane Maria

NY Daily News - September 27, 2017

by GINGER ADAMS OTIS, JASON SILVERSTEIN, JAMES FANELLI

A team of New York City’s Bravest and Finest have been tirelessly working to assist a mountain village in Puerto Rico that was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, city officials said.

The FDNY-NYPD team, known as New York Task Force 1, has spent the past two days in Utuado, helping to evacuate 12 people who were trapped due to a washed-out bridge, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

“They are, of course, happy and grateful to see us. Many of them have been without water for days now and some without food,” FDNY Lt. Michael McGuinness told the Daily News. “I think initially they thought they could ride it out, but given the lack of resources, they realized, ‘Hey, we’re cut off and we want out.’ ”

McGuinness is among the 27 firefighters and cops who are on the ground in Puerto Rico, which is struggling to recover from Maria.

The category 5 hurricane left Puerto Rico entirely without power, while homes and hospitals have been starved for resources. The Pentagon said 44% of the population has no drinking water and only 11 of the island’s 69 hospitals have fuel or power.

McGuinness said that on Tuesday his rescue team hiked 30 minutes through difficult terrain to evacuate four people to safety. He said since the bridge had been washed out, the task force and the National Guard were distributing relief supplies through a boat traveling across the river by a pulley system.

The New York Task Force 1 also repaired a hospital generator in Utuado, which has a population of about 33,000, an Emergency Management spokeswoman said.

“They were conducting operations around Utuado yesterday and returned there today. Communication is really spotty, and we haven’t been able to get in touch with them easily,” the spokeswoman, Nancy Silvestri, told The News.

McGuinness said he was not sure how long his team will be in Utuado. There are several more communities downriver that were trapped by the floods, he said.

Congress has yet to approve a relief package for Puerto Rico, which will face at least an estimated $40 billion in damage.

Lawmakers have criticized President Trump for mostly remaining mum about Puerto Rico’s wreckage and not jumping into action as he did within days of hurricanes Irma and Harvey hitting Southern U.S. states.

But Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who pleaded for relief this week, said Tuesday he is “confident” Trump understands the severity of the Maria damage.