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Military Support to Puerto Rico Recovery Ramps Up Further

Sept. 29, 2017 (EIRNS)—The Defense Department (DoD) announced yesterday, that a three-star general, Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the commander of U.S. Army North, has been appointed as the Defense Department’s primary liaison to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as hurricane response efforts in Puerto Rico transition from a sea-based to a land-based operation. Buchanan arrived in Puerto Rico, yesterday, to join his deputy, Brig. Gen. Richard Kim, who arrived on Sept. 27. Buchanan actually replaces Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey W. Hughes, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, in that role. Hughes’ command includes the amphibious ships U.S.S. Kearsarge and the U.S.S. Oak Hill, which originally deployed at the end of August to respond to Hurricane Harvey and have been working in the Caribbean since Hurricane Irma.

Defense News reported yesterday that the military is keeping up round-the-clock missions getting aircraft, troops, food and supplies to both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since Hurricane Maria, Air Mobility Command has flown nearly 200 sorties, delivering about 1,500 short tons of critical equipment and supplies, such as fuel, communications equipment, generators, medical equipment, food and water, said Col. Patrick Ryder, an Air Force spokesman. The Air National Guard has flown another 213 sorties delivering 1,000 tons of cargo and 1,200 people.

"It may seem the response was slow for the air, but I would tell you that’s not. We had a critical enabler, a radar system that was knocked out in San Juan, so that had to get reestablished,"

said Brig. Gen. Keith Wark, director of operations for the National Guard Bureau. The lack of that radar greatly reduced the number of aircraft that could be brought to Puerto Rico on a per hour basis. FEMA reported, yesterday, however, that full air traffic control services have been restored to the San Juan airport, and partial services to the airport in Aguadilla. This will help improve the flow of air traffic into and out of the island.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan spoke by phone with Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and pledged that the DoD will stay aligned with Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) plan to stabilize the situation and sustain life in Puerto Rico, reports the Pentagon readout. He made clear that supporting the territory’s citizens is a top priority, and DoD will deploy all needed resources to do so.

The DoD update posted today includes, among others, the following details:

  • Ten of 12 regional staging areas, including 12 Puerto Rico National Guard armories, are open, supporting more than 100 distribution points for meals, water and other commodities.

  • FEMA reports that assessments are complete at 62 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals—one is fully operational, 55 are partially operational, five are closed, and the status of eight is as yet unknown.

  • The hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort is departing Norfolk today and will arrive in Puerto Rico mid-week, next week. U.S. Northern Command is also providing additional medical support.

  • The Army Corps of Engineers has completed a damage assessment at Puerto Rico’s Guajataca Dam, Davis said, and are consulting on repairs. A flash flood watch is posted there, with 1 to 3 inches of rain expected over the weekend.