In post-hurricane Puerto Rico, federal agencies continue to coordinate relief efforts. The ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) office in San Juan has dedicated the last 33 days to providing relief to the most disconnected areas on the island.
Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI San Juan, Orlando Baez, has led his team and worked with approximately 200 additional agents from Homeland Security to conduct welfare checks across some of the most difficult terrain.
“In the beginning they came down here to account for all of our employees and to do welfare checks, in that mix we saw an opportunity to start helping people out in the remote areas where we were doing these welfare checks—we started delivering water and food to those areas,” Baez said.
The additional DHS agents began to arrive on the island within two days of the storm. The agents are aiding non-governmental agencies to deliver food and supplies. They provide security and logistical support during supply drops.
The National Guard from New York, the National Guard of Puerto Rico and Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine branches are working with four black hawk helicopters from San Diego to deliver supplies.
Baez’s team has been crucial in helping teams navigate the island’s terrain. He notes that the areas with the biggest challenges are in the West and in the middle of the island. These areas have been impacted by landslides and many bridges are gone. Some regions have resorted to unconventional measures to gain access to supplies.
“We went to Utuado where a bridge was gone. They were completely disconnected. They had to build a sort of zip line with a shopping cart attached to the zip line so that they are able to get supplies from the other side of the bridge,” recalls Baez.
Baez emphasized the interagency collaboration that is taking place in Puerto Rico.
“This has been an effort, all of DHS agencies, and the federal agencies as well as the state agencies, especially from New Jersey, state trooper from NJ came down here,” he said.
In Mid-November the last DHS teams will head back to the states, and the next phase in recovery will begin.
“It has been a well coordinate effort from all the agencies to contribute to the relief of Puerto Rico, now it is on FEMA to continue the mission… the relief phase is going to take effect and continue to lift the island of Puerto Rico, perhaps to be better than it was,” Baez said.