P.R. loves N.Y.
Warm welcome for city task force giving aid
AMID THE devastation on Puerto Rico, islanders were still able to give New York’s Task Force 1 a warm welcome.
The 27-strong urban search and rescue team — made up of FDNY and NYPD first responders — has been criss-crossing the commonwealth for more than a week searching for survivors and those in need of evacuation.
Each step of the way, they’re greeted with big smiles and thumbs-up from locals as they see the words “New York” on the team’s T-shirts, FDNY Capt. Liam Flaherty said.
“It’s wonderful to see the resilience of the people, their spirits are great. As soon as they see we’re from New York, the smiles come out,” Flaherty said.
“We’ve met dozens who have lived in the Bronx or Brooklyn or have family in the city. It’s pretty nice to see their reactions when we are out and about,” said the captain of Rescue 2 in Brooklyn.
“Given the ties between Puerto Rico and New York, it’s really meaningful for us to be down here helping them out.”
Flaherty and others members of Task Force 1 spent several days this week in the town of Utuado, where a washed-out road and bridge made it impossible for locals to evacuate or search for food and clean drinking water.
Since then, they’ve moved farther west, into Moca and Rincon, to survey every single town.
“The west didn’t get hit quite as hard, given the storm’s trajectory,” Flaherty said.
But the western areas are suffering just as much, because they’ve gone without supplies the longest, he added.
“The power is out everywhere, and a lot of the supplies are coming in east to west, so it’s taking a little longer to get here. They are in need of water, more than anything,” he said.
The crew has had to improvise ways to cross swollen rivers or trek into the dense foliage to find ways around destroyed roads, according to Flaherty.
As tired as the team sometimes gets, it’s worth it to bring some relief to the Puerto Rican communities that have been cut off from the outside world since Hurricane Maria hit on Sept. 19.
“I tell them supplies are coming, things are getting better and I think it makes them feel a little better,” he said. “They took a really tough blow.”
Task Force 1 members pack supplies for their trip.