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Hurricane Maria Response and Relief Operations Underway

Release date: 
September 21, 2017
Release Number: 
HQ-17-131

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) top priority is to provide life-saving resources to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, while aggressively working to gain greater access to disaster affected areas.

Federal coordinating officers and other FEMA personnel are on the ground, coordinating with the governors of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and their respective emergency management agencies.

FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) operations began today with initial damage assessments and intelligence reports. Four US&R task forces are stationed in the Caribbean with another eight teams awaiting airfield openings. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is conducting search and rescue operations in St. Croix and in the surrounding waters.

Three men stand in front of a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft. Another person in uniform walks toward the plane with suitcases in hand.
U.S. Coast Guard aircrews deploy for search and rescue missions around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Three members of US&R New York Task Force 1 pack equipment and prepare for deployment
FEMA US&R New York Task Force 1 deploys to support rescue and recovery efforts in the Caribbean following Hurricane Maria.

a large group of men and women in uniform walk around on a dock in front of a ship
U.S. Coast Guard personnel and assets bunker down Sept. 20 in Puerto Rico in order to respond and provide relief for Hurricane Maria.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintained air traffic control services in San Juan at the Combined Terminal Radar Approach and En Route Center (which provide air traffic services for high altitude flights over that region of the Atlantic) throughout Hurricane Maria’s landfall. This was the result of the extraordinary actions of a small group of FAA controllers and technicians who kept systems and generators operating. Also, a mobile air traffic control tower and instrument landing system is being returned to St. Thomas airport and will be operational today.

FEMA-loaded vessels with more than 1.3 million meals, 2 million liters of water, 30 generators and 6,000 cots are en route to St. Thomas, awaiting port opening and clearance. FEMA also pre-positioned commodities at its Distribution Center and Warehouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Commodities including meals, water, cots, and blankets are readyfor distribution to the Commonwealth as requested.

Yesterday President Trump issued major disaster declarations for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria. These declarations make federal funding available to affected individuals in designated areas. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.  Federal funding is available to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures. 

Those in designated areas of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are able to register for assistance may do so online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. If able, online registration is the quickest way to register for federal assistance.  Survivors who do not have access to the internet may register by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). If you use 711 relay or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362 directly.

Federal Efforts Underway as of September 21, 2017  

  • The American Red Cross Emergency App features an “I’m Safe” button that allows users to post a message to their social accounts, letting friends and family know they are out of harm’s way. The app can be downloaded for free in app stores by searching for “American Red Cross” or by texting ‘GETEMERGENCY’ to 90999.
     
  • U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
      
    • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is preparing to respond to the impacts of Hurricane Maria and resume its ongoing FEMA-assigned missions in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as soon as it is safe to do so. USACE had more than 120 responders in the islands for the storm's passage, and all personnel have been accounted for. In response to Hurricane Irma, which affected the same region, USACE received mission assignments to provide Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with temporary power, temporary roofing, debris removal/technical assistance, infrastructure assessment, and a commodities management expert.
       
    • The U.S. National Guard Bureau (NGB) is conducting security operations, route clearance, traffic control, and food and water distribution. They expect the airfield on St. Croix to be open today. Members of the Puerto Rico National Guard sheltered in place during the hurricane, and they were poised to respond following the storm.
       
    • U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is conducting incident awareness and assessment missions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with six U.S. Navy helicopters and three U.S. Marine Corps V-22 Osprey aircraft launched from the USS Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Gro. Additionally, a Navy surveillance aircraft launched from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, and is conducting an assessment of the damage in Puerto Rico.

Navy and Marine forward ground elements responded today to assist with response and recovery operations. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is inserting a Forward Coordination Element and Air Control Element into St. Croix to help open the airfield and coordinate with the Defense Coordinating Officer and National Guard at the Joint Force Headquarters there. The MEU will also insert an Air Control Element in the airport at St. Thomas in order to help open the airfield. DoD elements are focused on airfield assessments and opening runways to facilitate commodity distribution.

  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is working with its partners in response and power restoration efforts for Hurricane Maria. DOE emergency responders are deployed to St. Thomas and St. Croix in support of FEMA Incident Management Assistance Teams and a responder will deploy to Puerto Rico as soon as conditions permit. DOE is also working closely with its Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the American Public Power Association, the Department of Defense, and FEMA to facilitate mutual aid for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. An eight-member advance team from WAPA deployed to Puerto Rico ahead of Maria, sheltered while it passed, and will join the local Virgin Islands utility in the work of damage assessment and power restoration as soon as it is safe to do so. Additional utility crews will head to Puerto Rico as soon as it is safe to do so, where they'll work with the government of Puerto Rico on response, restoration, and rebuilding efforts. DOE is posting Situation Reports here, and the Western Area Power Administration is posting updates here.
     
  • The General Services Administration (GSA) facilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico remain closed except to law enforcement and essential personnel due to Hurricane Maria. Initial damage assessments are underway, and GSA-owned facilities will reopen when they are determined to be safe and operational. As GSA facilities reopen, they will be removed from the list of closed facilities at gsa.gov/facilitystatus.
      
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has more than 200 HHS medical professionals and public health experts poised to travel to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands to provide medical care and public health support. The HHS Disaster Distress Helpline assisted more than 5,000 callers in coping with the impacts of these storms. The helpline remains available 24 hours a day, 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
      
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to collaborate with the DoD and FEMA to provide information via radio and print materials to the impacted residents of U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
       
  • The U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of Law Enforcement sent 50 personnel to Puerto Rico with an additional 40 en route. DOI officers provided medical assistance, and assisted local hotels with shelter and evacuation plans.
     
  • The US Geological Survey has field crews in Puerto Rico who have deployed and are monitoring storm-tide sensors; more information can be found on the USGS Maria Flood Event Viewer.
     
  • National Park Service (NPS) incident management team is in San Juan to provide immediate assistance and communications.
     
  • Twenty U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel scheduled for response and recovery operations in the Caribbean will work in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service.
     
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) temporarily paused all response operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria. EPA is prepared to begin response operations again following the storm and as soon as staff can re-deploy. EPA response personnel who remained in the FEMA bunker on St. Croix are resuming assessment activities today.
     
  • U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) offices will remain closed until September 25, 2017. There were approximately 2,000 benefit payments dated September 20 (Cycle 3) for delivery to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. There were also about 160 checks dated September 14–19 resulting from daily payment files prior to Hurricane Maria. SSA is working with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to determine where these checks are in the mail stream.
     

U.S. Postal Service (USPS) facilities on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are closed—there are no retail services, package or mail pick up at any USPS location. As soon as it is safe to do so, USPS will begin to re-open postal facilities on the islands. Depending on the scope and level of damage, this could necessitate the use of temporary quarters on the islands and mainland plant processing and staging of Caribbean District mail, with a focus on transportation and distribution of essential items such as medications, Treasury checks, Social Security benefits, etc. Customers can find the latest service statuses at USPS Service Alerts.

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FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 11:59