SrA. Melvin Cruz and SSgt. Edgardo Gonzalez use a lightstand as a portable source of power in a small pump house at Muniz ANGB, Puerto Rico, Oct. 11, 2017. The Puerto Rico Air National Guard has been supporting a variety of relief and recovery missions since Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September. Air National Guard photo by TSgt. Dan Heaton.
More Air National Guard units from across the country are deploying to help the continuing relief efforts in Puerto Rico, where still just a fraction of the island has seen power return and many are still without water.
The deployments come as President Trump tweeted on Thursday that the military, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders, have been “amazing” but cannot stay in Puerto Rico “forever.” The Puerto Rico government lacks “accountability” and its infrastructure was a “disaster” before the storm, Trump tweeted.
The Defense Department has 13,420 personnel in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands who are providing relief from Hurricane Maria, which hit the islands on Sept. 20.
The No. 1 priority is power restoration, with just 16 percent of people on the island with electricity, according to a Pentagon release.
Eleven flights with equipment, personnel, and relief supplies were scheduled for Thursday with elements of the 633rd Expeditionary Medical Support Hospital from JB Langley-Eustis, Va., expected to arrive by Saturday. In total, there are 92 rotary wing aircraft and 14 fixed wing aircraft flying in relief efforts.
On Wednesday, 26 members of the Montana Air National Guard’s 219th RED HORSE Squadron deployed with Disaster Relief Bed-down Sets for shelters.
The West Virginia Air National Guard’s 130th Airlift Wing will also deploy this week with a Joint Incident Site Communications Capability to provide voice, data, and radio interoperability, the wing announced.
The Puerto Rico Air National Guard has stood up an Emergency Family Assistance Center at Muniz Air National Guard Base to help family members of the Guard who lost personal property in the storms. The center is staffed by Guard members from across the country, and includes food, water, and generators.
“Our airmen and their families have suffered losses and family is family,” Connie Moore, a family readiness specialist with the Washington, D.C., Air National Guard, said in a release. “No. 1, we take care of our family and we have to help our airmen who have needs with their family so that they are able to continue on with the mission.”
The Guard response to Hurricane Harvey wrapped up on Sept. 23 as the Texas National Guard completed its recovery operations, according to the National Guard Bureau. About 400 Guardsmen remain on duty for ongoing Hurricane Irma relief operations in Florida.