Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico

Oct 13 (Reuters) - Sixteen days after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Maria de Lourdes Sandoval heard helicopters over her village of Bajura.

She ran to signal them, forcefully waving her arms and crying for help as they touched down on a nearby soccer field. "I'm helpless. I don't have a home, don't have anywhere to live. I don't have furniture, no bed, no clothes,” Sandoval, 47, told Reuters.

Hundreds of villages, isolated by power outages, impassable roads and downed telephone lines, are being helped by helicopter teams from the U.S. Army's First Armored Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade and the 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit.

29 PHOTOS
Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
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Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
A woman and child walk away as soldiers in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the U.S. Army's First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, inspects the rear rotor of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico speaks with residents to get a list of their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Crew member Bynum stands in tropical rain as a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit prepares to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tropical rain splashes on a runway as HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit wait for weather to clear during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldiers from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepare in their sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A soldier from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepares in his sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Eldwin Bocanegra Torres speaks with residents isolated by landslides in the mountains after unloading water and food from a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit takes off behind Crew Chief Alexander Blake and his fellow soldiers during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Crew chief Kenney shelters under the blade of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit preparing to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Joseph Swift prepares for a night flight on an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man carries a case of water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Greenway receives a hug from a woman thanking him for water as he works with the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The contents of a home are seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field to avoid lightning during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Manati, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldier Thomas looks out of the window of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit, loaded with relief supplies, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents stand in front of wind-damaged trees as they wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents hold their hands aloft to signal that they need water as UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade fly past during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A message written on the rooftop is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, looks for a landing spot for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Crew chief Alexander Blake from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit loads water into a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, who is from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents as he helps during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Boys carry water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents peek through a fence at helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit that had parked in a locked field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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Daily missions are flown out of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, which was closed in 2004 but is now being used by the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

“It hurts because I remember how it used to be, and now it's completely different,” said Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico. After not visiting for roughly five years, he returned home in a Blackhawk helicopter.

“Everything is so much gone. The vegetation, everything is brown, everything is dead.”

On a recent mission over Luqillo, Tirado asked the pilots to fly over his family’s home because he had been unable to reach them by phone. The helicopter circled the house. No one was there, but Tirado was confident the message would reach his family: he’s here and he’s helping.

Media reports led crews to the village of San Lorenzo, which had received no federal assistance since the hurricane. Dozens of people pressed against a fence to watch helicopters land, anxiously waiting for food and water.

Crews are also transporting people to emergency centers and mapping open roads so trucks can make deliveries.

HOPE FROM ON HIGH

Rooftop messages like one near Humacao come through loud and clear. "HELP USA PLEASE P.R."

Near Ciales, as Blackhawks from the 1st Armored Division flew over, people on a rooftop reached toward the sky to signal they needed water.

As helicopters scouted the island's mountainous interior one recent Saturday a woman held a jug in the air.

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Puerto Rico's damage from above
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Puerto Rico's damage from above
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Remains of a shed is scattered over a basketball court after Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings and trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near Orocovis, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A damaged home is seen among blown down trees following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sand is seen along a road after being pushed there by Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The contents of a damaged home can be seen as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria are seen in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Trees damaged by the winds of Hurricane Maria are seen in a valley near Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Plywood is used on buildings to repair damage from Hurricane Maria near Loiza, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near the town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Residents fill containers with water from a creek as recovery efforts continue following Hurricane Maria near town of Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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They circled above houses built on top of mountains to find a level field to unload their precious cargo. One field looked open and a Blackhawk came within eight feet of the ground, but it could not land.

Loaded with 100 cases of water, the helicopter flew off, leaving behind thirst and desperation.

The crew soon found another needy community, Verde de Comerío, where it was able to land.

Villagers quickly lined up to help soldiers pass food and water to a crowd. One woman hugged Pilot Chris Greenway to thank him for water. In less than 10 minutes, hundreds of bottles of water were given to families, emptying the helicopter.

This village also needed medicine, and families with babies had no way of getting basics. Diapers and formula have become luxury goods. But every village asks for water.

The lack of potable water is slowly choking these villages and helicopters can only carry so much. Every trip leaves some who get nothing.

The crews can only hope they can return soon enough to make a difference.

"This island will never stop,” Tirado said. “People will rebuild, we will continue forward, and they're going to see a better tomorrow.”

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson and Julio Chavez; Editing by Melissa Fares, Toni Reinhold)

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