A crew of six local Customs and Border Protection agents traveled a total of 3,600 miles on the 15 hour mission.
The plane landed in Aguadilla, where the crew met other agents stationed at the Borinquen Air Station.
Customs and Border Protection agents unloaded the planes supplies, before the crew transported many of those agents back to Texas.
The supplies will be distributed to storm victims in Northwest Puerto Rico and also agents on the ground.
PUERTO RICO -
Thousands of people in Puerto Rico are still living without electricity, water, and basic necessities three weeks after Hurricane Maria. Local Customs and Border Protection agents have taken on an important mission to help.
Ever since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has had boots on ground, and they continue to fly in much needed supplies. Many of those supplies come from Texas.
Yesterday agents from Corpus Christi traveled across the Gulf of Mexico and into the Caribbean to bring relief to the devastated island. They transported 4,000 pounds of supplies to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. Now all of those supplies will be distributed in Northwest Puerto Rico, one of the regions hardest hit by Hurricane Maria.
After the Category 4 hurricane lashed the island, Puerto Rico is left a scene of devastation, with crumbling buildings, tainted water, and no cell phone service in many parts. At night it is a dark scene from above, with much of the the electrical grid down.
"These people are hurting so bad down there. It's like nothing I've ever seen before," said Herb Nicolay, Air Interdiction Agent for Air and Marine, Customs and Border Protection. "We're seeing people without electricity, without running water, for weeks on end."
Aid is desperately needed, which is why six Customs and Border Protection agents set out from Naval Air Station Corpus Christi early Tuesday morning for Aguadilla.
"It's about an 1,800 mile one way trip, so we'll be doing about 3,600 miles today," Nicolay said. "We should be able to get done and back in about 15 hours, hopefully."
It's a long mission. Nonetheless...
"It's critical," Nicolay said.
The P-3 Orion plane that carried the crew is normally used to search for drug smugglers. Now that it has been re-purposed for the humanitarian mission, it is packed with water, canned goods, clothes, diapers, tarps, and generators.
"This plane is completely full of supplies, almost any nook and cranny you see here, supplies have been put on the aircraft," said Andy Gonzales, Detection Enforcement Officer, Air and Marines Operations, Customs and Border Protection.
After a five hour flight, the crew arrived at U.S. Coast Guard Station Borinquen in Northwest Puerto Rico. Some hangers in the air station have had their roofs ripped off by Maria.
With the help of other U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents already at the base, efforts quickly get underway to unload box after box of supplies.
The items will be distributed in the region to support storm victims.
"They're lacking all the basic necessities right now," Nicolay said. "So every drop of water that we bring to them, every generator that we bring, it means electricity. They're eternally grateful for it."
The items will also be distributed to Puerto Rico-based Customs and Border Protection agents. Many are also victims of Maria's wrath.
"Border Patrol agents, most of their houses are gone too. And the Customs officers that are there, they don't have any place to live as well," Gonzales said.
Getting supplies to hurricane victims in the storm ravaged U.S. territory is complicated by the fact that it is surrounded by water.
"When we have a disaster like this in the [continental] United States, we have the benefit of our fellow states around us to coming to help us," Nicolay said. "Puerto Rico is an island. Logistically, it's so difficult to get any aid to people who need it. That's why it's going to take a long time to recover from this, a lot longer than we're used to."
A group from Texas is among the Customs and Border Protection agents stationed in Texas.
"Nobody was out at first, and then little by little people starting to come out. Giving people supplies, and food and water, they need it, and it was our pleasure to give it back to them," said Thomas Hermosillo, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent, Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue Team.
Another task for the Corpus Christi crew was to bring those agents back home. After unloading the supplies, a few dozen agents loaded their backpacks and boarded the plane, Texas bound.
Arriving at back at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi around 9 p.m., it was a 15 hour day for the crew.
However, the day's mission is just a glimpse of the ongoing efforts underway in Puerto Rico, and crews are ready to return.
"As long as we needed," Gonzales said. "As long as we're needed we'll keep going out there and doing this mission."
Customs and Border Protection crews from Texas, Florida, and around the U.S. are transporting 10-15,000 pounds of supplies to the island every day. They will continue traveling back to Puerto Rico as long as the recovery efforts are under way.
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