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Local NY National Guard members, supplies head to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief

The island of Puerto Rico faces months of cleaning up and rebuilding following Hurricane Maria. On Thursday, 125 members of the New York Army National Guard flew out of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, along with supplies that will go toward the ongoing relief effort in the U.S. territory.

Puerto Rico is still much devastated and a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard who arrived in Niagara Falls to pick up supplies and people, Captain Mario Ibarra, said up to 95 percent of the population there remains without electricity. 

He likened much of the scenery to something one might see on the television show "The Walking Dead." 

Military engineers, he said, face the difficulty of trying to clear and fix roads and bridges on rugged terrain and the effort is further complicated by wet weather.

"It's not a flat terrain. It's a lot of mountains. A lot of trees," Captain Ibarra said. "All that and the combination of the water and the wind, the slides, it's a pretty devastated situation in a lot of towns."

Ibarra said he's been carrying food and water aboard his C-130 but on his last trip he also delivered a kitchen setup for the military personnel now in Puerto Rico for hurricane relief efforts. 

A KC-135 took off from Niagara Falls as Ibarra and a crew were loading up his aircraft. In a nearby hangar, members of the New York Army National Guard's 204th Engineer Battalion were on standby, awaiting their departure. 

First Lieutenant Erin Morris was among those preparing to leave. 

"What they've experienced down there is just unimaginable," Morris said. "The fact that we have the opportunity to go down there and help them, and get them back to where they need to be, is an incredible experience. I can't wait to take part in it. I can't wait to try and help people who can't help themselves right now."

Morris added that usually, she and her peers are called up to assist with relief efforts within New York State. This will be an opportunity, as she sees it, to see another part of the country and learn more about its people.

Ibarra is from Puerto Rico, thus he is working to save his home. But it was noted that this mission is about Americans helping out fellow Americans, even if it's off the continent.

"Even though with the madness and the situation a lot of people are in, it's really interesting to see how the military put their training and all their equipment for helping fellow citizens," Ibarra said.


Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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