ICE HSI, CBP bring food and water to Utuado, PR
Four weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to team up with its federal partners to bring food and aid across the island, even to the most remote areas.
On Tuesday, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Orlando Baez , ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Juan, boarded a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter with HSI special agents from San Juan’s and New Orleans’ Special Response Teams (SRT) and CBP’s Air & Marine Operations (AMO) interdiction agents. This mission was to bring food and water to Utuado, Puerto Rico, a section of the island that has been cut off from main roads since Hurricane Maria. A member of the National Guard was there as well.
Terrain in the area is mountainous, with not many locations near the population to land with supplies. In this part of Utuado, like in many other locations, half of the bridge connecting the main road to the community was completely washed away by the surging river. The CBP helicopter landed on a riverbank close to the community so special agents could ascend up the side of the hill to a location where residents waited to greet them. It is here that SAC Baez was able to speak with members of the community and ask about their needs in this area. He asked them about their need for supplies or if anyone in the community required medical attention or wanted to leave to a shelter. Because of the difficulty to transport goods from the riverbank, the CBP helicopter circled overhead to find a better place to land in order to be able to distribute supplies. A water treatment facility was found further up the hill, and the community, gathering each neighbor in the process, drove up the muddy hillside to retrieve the supplies.
“Working together with CBP, HSI special agents are able to enter these remote areas to bring water and food into the communities. The cooperation among federal agencies during this trying time in Puerto Rico allows us to be both efficient and effective in this recovery effort,” said SAC Baez. “It is with this, and the support from the communities we serve, that we can continue to be successful in our daily missions.”
With multiple loads being dropped in Utuado, PR, “daisy chains” were formed. Community members lined up with SAC Baez and the SRT special agents, CBP AMO interdiction agents, and the National Guard, in a unified effort to unload supplies from the chopper. The goods were loaded into cars and brought to a local church that is used as a distribution center.
The supplies were provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This mission supported the distribution of more than 4000 liters of water and more than 1000 individual meals.
ICE personnel continue recovery efforts in Puerto Rico
After Puerto Rico’s biggest hurricane ravaged the island, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deportation officers are more than a month into recovery efforts, which have included well-check visits, moving of debris, cutting trees, tarping roofs, work needed on homes, providing security for doctors and others who are part of the humanitarian efforts on the island, as well as bringing meals to communities and water and food to remote areas of the island.
HSI special agents from Special Response Teams (SRT) and Rapid Response Teams (RRT) who have been temporarily assigned to the recovery efforts, set off on a helicopter early Thursday to distribute food and water to those in locations too remote or inaccessible for trucks. Special agents boarded a contracted plane to first pick up supplies at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, a former United States Navy base in the town of Ceiba, Puerto Rico. It is here that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) organizes the distribution of food while National Guard reservists assist with the loading of the goods.
HSI special agents offer both security and distribution assistance at the drop off locations. The first drop was in the town of Guayama, a town on the south east coast of Puerto Rico. The helicopter landed in a baseball field which was surrounded by debris and downed trees that still hadn’t been removed. The roads would not give way to a delivery truck, so nearby pallets of food and water were brought to the town where lines of people waited for distribution. Special agents also ensured that those who were unable to leave their homes for supplies received them, by bringing the water and food to their door.
“The path of destruction that Hurricane Maria had left in its wake was devastating to the island. But I have witnessed the true meaning of resilience in the Puerto Rican people, and I have felt it in the tireless efforts of the men and women of ICE over the past few weeks,” said Orlando Baez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. “I also applaud the continued cooperation between federal, state and local agencies in this recovery effort, which has allowed us to help those who need it most.”
HSI special agents were also able to bring supplies to Caonillas Arriba, a mountainous community which has been very difficult to reach with anything other than a helicopter; the landing strip is a front yard and the distribution center is a home.
Tree Cutting in Casa de Todos
Rapid Response Team in Humacao
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents from San Juan and Rapid Response Team (RRT) members from Boston, Dallas and Newark, deployed to Puerto Rico, caravanned to Humacao, Puerto Rico Friday to bring hot meals, fruit and water to those in need. HSI teamed up with the Departamento de la Familia and attorneys from the Department of Justice in San Juan for this mission. They also escorted doctors from a San Juan hospital to offer well checks to the people of the town.
HSI special agents picked-up food from the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, where a group of volunteers led by Chef Jose Andres of World Central Kitchen created thousands of hot and cold meals daily. They loaded the trays of hot food and packages of fruit and water into the vehicles, all to be transported nearly two hours southeast to a Humacao community center.
On an outdoor basketball court, people lined the bleachers and children played games set up around the area. Inside, the people of Humacao welcomed the special agents and guests with warm smiles. Water and food was unloaded and tables were set up for service. HSI agents, side by side with attorneys and social workers, served each person a freshly made meal, water and fruit.
“HSI special agents have been working diligently every day since Maria hit the island. And each time they enter these towns that were ravaged by the hurricane and meet the people, it is another reminder that this recovery effort, and all the work that goes into it, is greater than us,” said Orlando Baez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan.
Once all were served a meal, the Departamento de la Familia offered more food and supplies. HSI special agents managed the lines and handed out the boxes for every family present. This mission supported the distribution of hot food, boxed food, water, fruit and other household supplies to nearly 500 Humacao residents.