SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – As Hurricane Irma completed its rampage across Florida over the weekend, additional emergency response teams started recovery efforts in the hard-hit U.S. Virgin Islands, with logistics nonprofit Airlink and United Airlines airlifting vital K-9 search and rescue dogs and other equipment here at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), the nerve center of hurricane relief efforts in the Caribbean.
Adam Marlatt, president of HELP.NGO’s Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (Global Dirt) described the situation on the ground as “dire” as his search-and-rescue team scrambled to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis, as reports of looting and social-breakdown in the U.S. Virgin Islands increase the urgency of the mission.
“Emergency response teams have been able to establish the only internet connectivity for the island with the gear brought in on the United flight,” Marlatt said Saturday. “We are beginning to establish logistics here in St. John.”
Evacuation efforts are also underway, Marlatt told Air Cargo World, with private vessels providing much of the capacity. Boats from Puerto Rico are bringing in supplies to the neighboring U.S. territory, just 40 miles to the east, and returning home with evacuees. For more critical evacuations, Global DIRT is establishing and securing helicopter landing sites.
Global DIRT is working with the US government offices, including the Parks Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on St. John, where they set up camp.
K-9 teams arrived on the island of St. John Sunday (see video of their arrival below), and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing, with Global DIRT K-9 teams augmenting FEMA teams. Marlatt said that more emergency response personnel are expected today.
After arriving in San Juan late Friday, Global DIRT transported team members to St. John on an Airbus H145 Helicopter, along with satellite communications equipment, medical supplies/personnel, and helicopter marking equipment for patient evacuation. “We are working directly under the U.S. National Park Service and are currently preparing for the rest of the team’s entry tomorrow after the hurricane passes,” Marlatt said. The island of St. John also doesn’t have an airport, making helicopter access a critical link in the disaster response.
Four days after Hurricane Irma moved west, many of the worst struck islands are still foundering, desperately low on supplies, and facing social breakdown as reports of violence and looting rise. On Saint Maarten, one resident said that, with no power, water or gas, “the Dutch marines can barely handle the looters, and the local police aren’t much help.”
On St. John, where the Global DIRT team is based, local media are reporting that the situation is stabilizing, and that some roads are opening up. The local government is working to bring in food, water and more diesel for generators.