SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —
A year ago today, Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, causing significant damage and devastation throughout the country. After the storm, more than 11,000 airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines from units around the United States mobilized to help the American territory.
Many members of the Puerto Rico National Guard’s 783rd Support Maintenance Company began recovery efforts just one day after the storm, and others joined shortly after. Their initial mission was to inspect the facilities of their armory, but local firefighters in the Toa Baja community alerted them about civilians in need of rescue.
The size of the unit’s military trucks enabled them to rescue people and transport them through the flooding water and mud as high as 8 feet in pitch-black darkness while it was still raining. Many of these soldiers left their families behind and didn’t have communication with them for weeks. Their focus was ensuring their rescue mission was complete.
Army Staff Sgt. Indira Duprey was in charge of some of the rescue missions. “The way Puerto Rico is structured, there are a lot of rural areas,” Duprey said. “They lost communication, power and even water sources.”
Duprey and others in her unit worked 15- to 16-hour days for weeks on these rescue missions. At times, they said, they forgot to eat and were working off of pure adrenaline.
The combined effort of the 783rd SMC, the municipal police and firefighters resulted in the rescue of more than 3,000 people, including children and the elderly. The 892nd Multi-Role Bridge Road Company was also among the units responding to the disaster.
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Motta, a heavy equipment operator with the 892nd MRBRC, became a part of the Task Force East on Aug. 7, 2017, to prepare for Hurricane Maria. He continued to work with the task force until June 18 of this year.
Motta and his team worked 12 to 13 hours, seven days a week, for his first four months. They cleared roads of debris and delivered essential supplies such as water, food, medicine and solar panels to civilians. They even delivered 64 45-foot poles for people to begin receiving electricity again.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers also played a vital role following the storm. Task Force Power Restoration bill of materials squad member Army Capt. Carlos Fabre contributed heavily in the mission to restore power to the island. His team has successfully reached 99.7 percent of completion of customers who have electricity, and Fabre said they will not stop until they reach 100 percent.
The Corps of Engineers has also been working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the request of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to help at the Guajataca Dam, which collapsed after the impact of Hurricane Maria. It’s conducting spillway stabilization, waterline reconnection, channel reinforcement and stabilization work at the slope and spillway, and water gate repairs. is the Corps of Engineers also is in charge of the operation and maintenance of 10 water pumps to move water from the reservoir to the irrigation channel.
Camp Santiago, a military training installation in southern Puerto Rico, provided essential assistance for many of the incoming units that assisted civil authorities during disaster relief operations.
“I had people here that started working very early in the morning,” said Army Col. Carlos R. Caez, the garrison commander at Camp Santiago. “It was a lot of hard work. It was very difficult for us to not give medals to everybody. A lot of people did good jobs and were not asking for any [reward].