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Indiana relief workers re-deployed to disaster zone for Hurricane Maria help

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PUERTO RICO—Indiana Task Force 1 (IN-TF1) has been deployed to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The response team works with local, state and federal agencies to respond to natural and manmade disasters.

For some, it’s will their second or third deployment in the past month. IN-TF1 was first sent to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey rescue and recovery missions at the end of August. The units were redeployed to Florida and the Florida Keys to help after Hurricane Irma made landfall.

“Three different storms, three different types of damage,” said Cpt. Michael Pruitt with IN-TF1 and Wayne Twp. Fire Dept. in a phone interview Friday morning, “each storm brought a different impact to the community it affected.”

Pruitt is the only member of the task force currently in Puerto Rico. He arrived on the island ahead of the storm. He’s attached to the FEMA Incident Support Team managing operations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

He and roughly 300 other relief workers from across the country rode out Hurricane Maria inside a Puerto Rican hotel.

“We went from sunny, calm weather to rain bands and wind. Then the storm came in at nighttime here in San Juan,” Pruitt says things picked up in the middle of the night and peaked at around 5:00 a.m.

During the worst of the storm, they were moved to the evacuation zones inside the building as some men and women described feeling the building make noise and move.

The hotel, which Pruitt describes as a substantial structure, did suffer some damage and leaks. Parts of the hotel flooded and the ceiling to his room partially collapsed.

Now, more than two dozen IN-TF1 members are staged and awaiting deployment at an airbase in Dayton, Ohio. Pruitt says it’s unclear when they’ll get the okay to fly out and land to assist.

“It’s what we’re trained to do and the guys and gals get excited about going out and providing what we’re trained to do, for those in need,” Pruitt added.

“Until you get your airports opened up where airplanes can fly in and bring not only the rescuers but more supplies to support that live here—it’s a challenge,” said Pruitt.

Thursday morning was the first day crews went out to start on rescue and relief efforts. They started with reconnaissance work in San Juan and travelled to Ponce on the south side of the island.

Pruitt says they observed significant wind damage to the trees and homes in the mountainous regions of the island. In other areas, they encountered flooding and mud along with debris.

The island of Puerto Rico is completely without power making communication difficult. Pruitt says much of their work has been to establish communication with local governments and communities to see what assistance, if any, they need with cleanup.