Exclusive look at Army relief operations in Puerto Rico

EMBED </>More Videos

In the Chicago area, it may be hard to imagine no electricity, no running water and no communication for three weeks, but that's the situation for many parts of Puerto Rico. (WLS)

An ABC7 Exclusive
In the Chicago area, it may be hard to imagine no electricity, no running water and no communication for three weeks, but that's the situation for many parts of Puerto Rico.

ABC7's Leah Hope embedded with the U.S. Army's Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy - a Chicagoan - to see some of the damage from a Blackhawk helicopter and some of military relief operations on the ground.

EMBED More News Videos

ABC7's Leah Hope embedded with the U.S. Army's Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy to see some of the damage from a Blackhawk helicopter and some of military relief operations on the ground.


The lush American island retains little of its vivid color. Three weeks after one of the worst storms hit Puerto Rico only nine percent of the island has power. Only 63 percent have access to drinking water, 45 have died and 119 still missing.

This was the first time the U.S. Army's Acting Secretary saw the damage for himself. From reports he got, both professionally and personally, he knew it was bad.

"I have a non-commissioned officer in my front office whose family lives here who traveled with us today. I have friends from back home in Chicago who have family ties here, so it is very personal," said Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

Secretary Ryan McCarthy grew up in the Chicago area and still has family in the city and suburbs.

EMBED More News Videos

ABC7's Leah Hope embedded with the U.S. Army's Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy to see some of the damage and some of military relief operations on the ground.



Amid criticism about the federal government's general response, McCarthy says his energy needs to be on what's happening now and what needs to be done.

"We are focused on the mission. This is what we do and we know we're making tremendous results and improving people's lives everyday," said Acting Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

The secretary saw military transportation hubs with cargo helicopters making air drops of supplies in isolated areas of the island.

"The water, the food. The insulin, the medical supplies are greatly needed and greatly appreciated you can tell that where we're landing hasn't been visited yet," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Chung.

Special land-to-sea vessels have reached the smaller islands of the archipelago with alternating deliveries of food and gas to power generators.

"If you have all the generators for the water company on Vieques then you are able to push water through generators to the island of Culebra as well," said Brigadier General Jose Reyes.

In Humacao, a combat support hospital was erected in 48 hours with many of the capabilities of a permanent hospital including an operating room.

The commander of the 14th Combat Support Hospital is a Colonel from Bartelso in Southern Illinois.

"We have been out coordinating with the local hospitals here so we can work in collaboration with them," said Col. Rachel Smith.

During our time embedded with the secretary we met other Chicagoans assisting in the military relief efforts including some based at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico.

""We all survived the storm. We all helped our neighbors clear the trees and neighborhoods after the storm. And then put on our uniforms and came out here at the base to help everyone around us," said Major Ignacio Maramba from Park Ridge, Illinois.

"We are the sons ask daughters of Puerto Rico. And being military, you want to help so many people. And sometimes it's heartbreaking," said Captain Christhie Anabelle Ejarque from Chicago.

The Secretary's visit was intentionally brief. He didn't want his visit to distract soldiers from their work.

While we didn't see civilians from our vantage point, the need to get resources to civilians was obvious to all.

"It always helps to come down on the ground and get a bird's-eye view and talk to leaders. Clearly there are lot of families suffering and tremendous challenges in front of them," said Secretary McCarthy.

Secretary McCarthy will assess what he saw and heard and determine if more is needed.

As we were part secretary's delegation, we only saw what they saw.

To get a sense of how life has changed on the island, take a look at the before and after Hurricane Maria image from NOAA.

One can see how much darker the nighttime view from Thursday night compares to before the hurricane hit the island.



There are still many people in the middle of the island waiting to get help.


Related Topics:
puerto ricohurricane mariaarmydisasterdisaster reliefu.s. & world
(Copyright ©2017 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

Load Comments