Puerto Rico’s National Guard reportedly helped rescue more than 1,000 people impacted by the devastating hurricane that struck the island earlier this week.
Hurricane Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sunday, at the time as a category one storm, knocking out power to the entire island and pummeling it with torrential rain.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a news conference Monday that the National Guard and emergency responders had already rescued at least 1,000 people stranded due to the storm, which has so far killed at least eight, according to reports by Reuters.
Only five years after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island, widespread landslides, powerful winds and catastrophic flooding have again devastated Puerto Rico.
Pierluisi activated more than 450 Puerto Rico National Guard members to assist those in need, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing Tuesday, adding that Virgin Island National Guard personnel were also activated to monitor the situation.
“Before the storm hit the Puerto Rico National Guard prepositioned soldiers and heavy equipment, including vehicles with high ground clearance, at 10 strategic points around the island to allow it to quickly respond to emergencies such as rescuing stranded or trapped people and clearing roads,” Ryder said.
On Monday, the Guard’s 65th Infantry Regiment rescued 21 elderly and bedridden people whose homes were threatened by landslides, according to an Army press release. Members of the 296th Infantry Regiment rescued 59 people — and 13 pets — from flooding in Mayagüez. Rescues also took place in Salinas, Toa Baja and Añasco, among other municipalities.
In one harrowing incident, Guard members with the 125th Military Police Battalion rescued a man in Ponce who had been swept away by a flash flood when he went out for gasoline.
“He was clinging to a concrete beam near Mercedita Airport in southern Puerto Rico, where floodwaters were as high as 6 feet,” a Puerto Rico National Guard press release stated.
As of early Friday, at least 926,000 Puerto Ricans had been affected by power outages, according to the online tracker PowerOutage.us.
Ryder said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing generators for emergency power and the Civil Air Patrol is providing post-hurricane landfall imagery support and small unmanned aerial system support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s urban search and rescue teams.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration — following an initial emergency declaration on Sunday — that will direct federal aid for the island’s recovery efforts.
“I especially want to thank the local first responders,” Biden said Thursday during a briefing with FEMA. “I want to say that again — the local first responders. I want to thank them — including the Puerto Rican National Guard, who have been working around the clock.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, which is also assisting in relief efforts, posted a video to its Facebook showing a coastal assessment team flying over Puerto Rico Tuesday to assess damage around the island. Later that day, the Coast Guard reopened all of the remaining ports on the island and in U.S. Virgin Islands.
Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard, thanked those troops helping to manage the aftermath of Fiona in a video posted to Twitter.
After leaving Puerto Rico, the storm picked up as it reached the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos before today barreling over Bermuda, now as a category four storm. The National Hurricane Center said this morning that Fiona is expected to hit Canada later today and tomorrow.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media