Five Mainers with the Red Cross are heading to Puerto Rico to help in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which wiped out much of the island’s infrastructure.
Darlene Helms of Hampden, the team leader, had recently returned from two weeks in Texas, where she helped out after Hurricane Harvey. The Red Cross volunteers are saying for longer-than-usual deployments and they expect to face difficult conditions.
“This is a three-week assignment,” Helms said on Monday shortly after boarding a plane for Atlanta, where an orientation will be held before the team is sent to the Caribbean island on either Tuesday or Wednesday. “We’re taking water purifiers and sleeping bags.”
The Maine team will not know its assignment until it arrives, but Helms expects members will be handing out water and supplies like she did in Texas.
Anne Heminway of Phippsburg, Victoria White of Lewiston, Crystal Abbott of Alfred and Jim Kerrigan of Old Orchard Beach are also part of the Red Cross mobile strike team. White did not leave with the team on Monday, but is expected to join them shortly or she may deploy with another team, according to spokeswoman Ann Kim.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez said the devastation from the storms “has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years.”
At least 10 people in Puerto Rico have died from Maria, which includes two police officers who drowned in floodwaters in the town of Aguada. The number of dead is expected to rise as remote towns, unable to communicate because of the power outage, check in with San Juan officials.
More than 2,380 Red Cross workers have or are responding to provide hurricane relief this year and nearly 180 Red Cross workers and volunteers are in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
After Irma’s landfall, disaster workers in Puerto Rico helped hundreds of families with clothing, shoes, food and medicine, and distributed more than 14,400 relief supplies, the American Red Cross of Maine said. Workers and volunteers also provided health services and emotional support to families and evacuees.
Other Maine teams are preparing to deploy to either Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands in the coming weeks, the organization said.
Getting relief materials to the islands has proved difficult, but the Red Cross is working with federal, corporate and community partners to get supplies to the region by both sea and air. Shelters remain open across both island territories.
“Right now, there is a possibility that we’ll take a military flight” to the island, Helms said. “Right now, the airport [that is open] is only for [emergency] responders.”
Helms said she expects “camp style” living conditions while deployed.
“We’re going to do whatever they need us to do,” she said. “I think we’re going to do a lot of good.”