BEVERLY (CBS) — It’s been a busy month for Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1, but the 27-member team is now back home from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
Then, on September 22, the team left Westover Air Reserve Base on a military transport to Puerto Rico to support search and rescue operations there and in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit back-to-back.
The team, which also included two search and rescue dogs, arrived back in Beverly Thursday morning after an eight-day deployment.
“It’s rough down there, the communication is poor,” said Anita Arnum, the team’s Assistant Program Manager and medical specialist. “Communication between emergency services, the hospitals, and just people trying to get cell service and internet doesn’t exist right now or is very spotty.”
Task Force 1 was based in San Juan and assigned to the western division of the island, where Arnum said many of the streets were blocked by downed wires and trees.
“There’s a lot of stories, I would be challenged to pick out just one,” said Task Force Leader Sean Brown. “It was a very moving event for all of us, these types of events often are.”
These powerful hurricanes set the island back decades and they need much more help as they begin to rebuild.
“This was very widespread damage throughout the island, and everyone is affected,” Arnum said.
The team had a wide array of tasks on the island.
“Sometimes you have to go out and search, make sure people are accounted for, see if there are any medical needs, if there’s structural damage, and report all this back to one data collection point,” Arnum said. “Sometimes door to door, sometimes hospital to hospital, sometimes a specific target check on an individual that hasn’t been seen or is reported to have medical problems.
The destruction has left millions desperate for basic supplies like food, water, and fuel.
Despite the devastation, Arnum said locals had a “very positive outlook.”
“I saw a lot of people working together,” she said. “The people are very understanding … long gas lines, I’m sure its frustrating for them, but they’re doing well helping each other from what we saw, and working together.”
She also offered advice to anyone wanting to help.
“Pay attention to what’s going on down there, make donations to local authorities, and help out that way,” Arnum said.