On a Midnight Flight to Puerto Rico

September 29, 2017

In truth, daylight in Puerto Rico was welcome after a five-hour flight over the inky blackness of the Atlantic.

The air crew were wearing night vision headsets due to the lack of visible landmarks; the only illumination came from occasional flashes of lightning.

Eight days after Hurricane Maria flattened much of the island, getting to Puerto Rico required hitching a ride on a C-130 out of Savannah, Georgia, at midnight.

The National Guard — deploying noble men and women to help keep the peace and clean-up after multiple hurricanes across the Caribbean — squeezed myself, cameraman John Mees and our considerable kit onto the plane.

The pilot offered us a bench seat at the rear of the cockpit and we were deposited on Apron 1 in San Juan at dawn.

Much of the Caribbean is without power, but Puerto Rico — with a population comparable to Melbourne — has been hard hit and could be without electricity for six months.

That, plus a lack of communications due to downed mobile phone towers, means the airport at San Juan is operating like a pop-up strip in a warzone.

Pilots are using their experience and their eyes to land planes rather than radar and air traffic control, hence the limited commercial flights.

Puerto Rico is suffering badly after being whacked by a category 4 storm on September 20 and a number of factors are compounding the problem.

It was already a struggling US territory (not a state) with crumbling infrastructure and huge debt before the hurricane caused widespread destruction.

Being an offshore island — as Donald Trump has helpfully pointed out — means help can’t just be driven in across state lines. Getting relief in is quite a mission.

Its isolation from the mainland US also means the problem is out of sight, out of mind for many Americans unless they have family or close friends here.

And this storm closely follows hurricanes Harvey and Irma which have already sucked up massive emergency funding and resources.

Sadly, today, we saw the results of that combination first hand.

People queued for crazy distances and periods of time to get fuel. They then queued again to get more due to rationing.

They then queued for water. Neighbours combined food resources due to an inability to get cash from ATMs and the fact that no-one is taking credit cards so supplies can’t be bought.

Big stores that accommodated food stamps like Walmart have closed because they can’t run their generators without diesel. Big hotels have stationed security guards on their doors and are not letting non-residents in to eat at their facilities.

Read More

0 comment