18:44 PM

SE Region Members Target Communications, Aerial Missions in Maria-Battered Puerto Rico

Members from Ala., Ga., Miss., Tenn. Assisting Puerto Rico Wing Colleagues

Lt. Col. Andrew Oppmann
Director of Public Affairs
Southeast Region

1st Lt. Morgan Torp-Pedersen
Public Affairs Officer
Tennessee Wing

Civil Air Patrol members in Puerto Rico worked Saturday to restore communications and begin flying missions in the wake of the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Maria.

The Puerto Rico Wing set up shop at Hospital del Hoare in San Juan, where electricity has been restored through generators, along with working telephone lines and stable internet access.

Officials have said it could be months before power and other services are fully restored to the Caribbean island commonwealth, hit hard Thursday by the then-Category 4 hurricane.

Col. Barry Melton, commander of CAP's Southeast Region, which includes Puerto Rico, said the wing's two Cessna airplanes, used in photographic missions conducted for federal and commonwealth relief officials, were removed Friday from protective storage.

Melton said the wing planned to fly four photo missions today covering Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "Our sorties will cover high-priority areas as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency," he said.

Lt. Col. Juan Rodriguez of the Puerto Rico Wing said crews were tasked with taking photos of the Guajataca Dam on the island's northwestern area, which has suffered structural damage after heavy rainfall from the hurricane.

The 20-member CAP team working the missions includes 12 from the Puerto Rico Wing, joined by eight members from the Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee wings, Melton said.

The stateside relief members arrived in Puerto Rico on Friday afternoon.

Lt. Col Harvey Yarborough, director of operations for the Alabama Wing and incident commander for the Puerto Rico mission, has been tasked with coordinating with region leadership as well as the CAP National Operations Center at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, Melton said.

Rodriguez, speaking on behalf of Col. Carlos Fernandez, Puerto Rico Wing commander, said he was "extremely proud of our volunteer airmen who took care of their family needs and responded to the call of service."

And he thanked the stateside volunteers: "We are also grateful to our fellow airmen who are assisting us in this disaster."

The team was provided MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, by 1st Air Force, which oversees CAP's missions. Melton said the team has enough supplies to sustain itself for a week.