HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Master Sgt. Sharlyne Acevedo, Acquisition Intelligence Division superintendent at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here, first heard her family survived Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico seven full days after landfall. In order to get word to Acevedo, they asked a cousin, whose family lived near functioning phones, to call her. Acevedo said she may not have heard, even that long after the storm, if her family wasn’t closely knit.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria are keenly felt by the relatives and friends of Puerto Ricans throughout the world. Six Airmen and civilians, members of the Hanscom Hispanic Latin American Community on Facebook, spoke with the Hansconian Sept. 29 to tell their stories.
“Our families may not have had much to start with, but now we’re trying to help them get water, that basic thing. It’s very emotional, and it’s heartbreaking and frustrating that we can’t get it to them yet,” said Tech. Sgt. Vimarie Rodriguez, Medical Logistics section chief of the 66th Medical Squadron, who is organizing a food drive targeting families of Hanscom Airmen impacted by the storm.
Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory whose residents are U.S. citizens, suffered a one-two punch as Hurricane Irma grazed the island Sept. 6, knocking out power for most of its population. The eye of that storm did not hit the island, and it was, at the time, the most powerful storm documented in the Caribbean. Days later, before power could be restored in most areas, Hurricane Maria bisected the island. Maria took the title from Irma as the most powerful Caribbean storm, barely shy of a Category 5 when it made landfall, impacting 3.4 million Puerto Rican inhabitants.
Some Airmen are responding to the tragedy by trying to get their families off the island. Staff Sgt. Jasmine Stewart, 66th Medical Squadron Medical Readiness Office non-commissioned officer in charge, is working to get her two sisters, 13 and 16, to the U.S. as dependents. Her first sergeant and leadership are helping to expedite the paperwork. Stewart acquired plane tickets, but they are expensive and frequently canceled at the last minute.
“My co-workers are taking time to look for flights for my family on their own time, using their cell phones,” said Tech. Sgt. Victor Portes-Garcia, 66th Security Force Squadron NCOIC of the Military Working Dog section. Portes-Garcia supervises 10 Airmen and cares for six working dogs. “They’re helping, and I don’t expect it of them. But they know it needs to be done.”
When asked what people can do to help, the Airmen named dozens of necessities that may already be on the island, but are frozen in place by insufficient logistics such as limited trucks, damaged roads and destroyed distribution centers.
Airmen from a nearby unit, the 143rd Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island Air National Guard, are replacing some of those logistics, flying frequent supply trips to multiple Caribbean areas damaged in this year’s record-breaking hurricane season. In addition, multiple military units are mobilized to provide immediate relief and repair destroyed infrastructure.
David and Dylan Guadalupe, a father and son who are civilian employees of separate acquisition units on base, frequently visit their extended family on the island. David said his parents, Dylan’s grandparents, 91 and 86 years old, escaped soon after the storm. They stayed at a hotel to weather the storm, and that hotel company flew their guests to the United States on a charter flight Sept. 26.
“My parents barely felt the storm,” said David Guadalupe. “But there is still a lot of our family in need, and I hope we can help make people aware of what they need right now.”