101st Airborne headed to Puerto Rico to help with hurricane relief

(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

FT. CAMPBELL, Ky. (WKRN) – The 101st Combat Aviation Brigade is heading to Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, and the electrical grid is down across the island. There are also shortages of food and medicine.

Some 70 soldiers and eight helicopters are expected to leave late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

The Trump administration said Tuesday it was sending a flotilla of ships and thousands more military personnel to Puerto Rico to address the growing humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Maria.

The administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said the devastation wrought by the Category 4 storm presented logistical challenges, with badly damaged airports and seaports making it difficult to get aid and personnel to the stricken island.

Long said 16 Navy and Coast Guard ships were in the waters around Puerto Rico, with 10 more ships on the way. They include the USS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship. Planes and ships were also bringing in a military force numbering in the thousands to help distribute aid. Military aircraft were dropping food and water to areas of the island still isolated and unable to receive help by road, he said.

“We’re dramatically increasing the federal footprint that’s there,” Long said, speaking outside the White House.

The shift, six days after the storm made landfall, came amid a growing chorus of criticism that the federal response so far had been insufficient.

Long said the federal government has provided 4 million ready-to-eat meals and 6 million liters of water. That would account for less than a day’s supply for each of the island’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens.

Large sections of the territory remained without adequate food, water and fuel Tuesday. Flights off the island were infrequent, communications were spotty and roads were clogged with debris.

Officials said electrical power may not be fully restored for more than a month.

The 101st Combat Aviation Brigade posted a Twitter picture of soldiers loading supplies on a medical helicopter and a C5 Galaxy cargo plane Tuesday.

President Trump has announced that he will visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday.