Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday that additional personnel and the first shipment of supplies donated though the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort are now en route to Puerto Rico. 60 Soldiers and 4 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation Regiment of the New York National Guard have begun their deployment from Army Aviation Support Facility #1 in Ronkonkoma to bolster aerial movement of relief supplies and personnel on the island. 100 members of the State Police have also been mobilized to assist with security operations and the first 50 will travel to Puerto Rico Friday morning on a flight donated by Delta Airlines.
Governor Cuomo has also approved the deployment of up to 120 members of the New York National Guard’s 442nd Military Police Company and 107th Military Police Company. The soldiers are mobilizing to prepare for deployment from Camp Smith in Westchester County and will travel with 16 Humvees to provide security assistance to law enforcement in Puerto Rico. Up to 125 additional soldiers and equipment from the 827th Engineering Company have also been mobilized to prepare for deployment in the coming days to conduct debris clearance missions on the ground.
To further support operations on the ground, a crew of up to 30 personnel from the State Department of Transportation that includes CDL drivers, is also being mobilized to perform highway restoration work and operate a variety of equipment to assist with the operation. Priorities will be established on site, but may include roadway clearance, debris removal, highway repairs, other heavy construction work and the transportation of supplies. George Miranda, President, Teamsters Joint Council 16 & President of Teamsters National Hispanic Caucus, has also put out a call for 50 volunteer truck drivers to join the DOT workers and Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort.
Additionally, an initial shipment of New York State supplies and donated supplies, which includes food, water, personal hygiene items, first aid supplies and various other items, is en route to Puerto Rico on vehicles from the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and SUNY Maritime, as well as a flight donated by JetBlue.
To expedite the delivery and distribution of these items, Governor Cuomo is also submitting a formal request to waive the Jones Act which would ensure greater shipment access to Puerto Rico.
AUDIO of Governor Cuomo’s remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below.
Anthony German, to my right. We have superintendent of the New York State Police, George Beach. We’re also joined in the front row by George Miranda, president of Teamsters Local Joint 16. Welcome George.
Everyone’s aware that there’s a devastating situation going on in Puerto Rico right now. It seems to be getting even worse, believe it or not as time goes on. As they get into the more remote, remote part of the island, they’re finding more devastation and more destruction than were in the main part of the urban areas of the island. I spoke to Governor Rossellóthis morning and asked him how we can help, what he needs. And he gave us some specifics, and I want to tick through now where we are in New York and what our plans are in the next coming days.
Obviously, this is all flexible because we’re trying to be responsive to the needs of Puerto Rico. We are responsive both as Americans in this state. In Puerto Rico they are American citizens we have to remember. Virgin Islands, they are American citizens. So we respond as Americans, and in New York we respond as New Yorkers. Because the Puerto Rican community is a big part of the New York community. I am a New York City boy, born and raised in Queens. I grew up with the Puerto Rican community. So it’s personal for us, as well as a governmental or an ethical obligation, it’s a person obligation. And it’s one we take very seriously.
I can’t tell you the outpouring of support all across this state for the people of Puerto Rico. People come up to me on the street, Puerto Ricans, and not, just because of the affiliation, and they all make the same point. We have to do everything we can, it’s terrible, I’ve seen the scenes in the newspaper, I’ve seen it on TV. We need to take action. And in New York we are all about taking action. That’s what we do. We wish people our best wishes, we remember them in our prayers, but I’m most proud as Governor of New York that we actually act. And that’s the job of government is to act. Government is a service bureau. People want to see action, and they want to see practical results, and that’s what government is supposed to do.
We started right away. The hurricane hit on September 20th, Hurricane Maria. By Friday we left, we left on the first flight to San Juan. We met with the Governor, we took a full aerial tour. We took a tour in Humvees to get an assessment of the situation. We made an initial commitment of the supplies that they requested were most urgent. Water, meals, canned goods, cots, blankets, etc. Generators, those were on the first trip down. They also asked for technical assistance, so we deployed NYPA personnel, New York Power Authority, because the power grid is all down. And restoring a power grid is very difficult. We’ve done it here in New York a couple of times. Hurricane Sandy was one of the great challenges, was getting the grid back up. Downed lines are very dangerous. And how you get the system back up and get it back up quickly is an engineering feat. And NYPA are some of the best people in the country to do it. We also sent down DEC with drones so they could do assessments of some of the more remote areas. You have towns in Puerto Rico where there’s one bridge that goes into the town, and the bridge is out. So you literally can’t get into the town. And the drones proved very helpful.
September 24th, we launched the Empire State relief and recovery effort, which is an organized effort to take advantage of the outpouring of support from New Yorkers. We have a statewide collection agency, and the National Guard is in charge of distribution. We have a website, NY.gov, that says exactly how people can help. We also have a financial contribution component, in case people want to make financial donations, which the Attorney General has helped expedite, Attorney General Schneiderman. The Attorney General has also agreed to police scammers from setting up phony organizations to take advantage of the situation.
Today, as I mentioned I spoke to Governor Rosselló this morning. JetBlue, which has been very, very helpful, is bringing the first shipment down of the items that we have collected. They’re going to be doing multiple transports, they have done multiple transports already. But this transport this morning is bringing hundreds of boxes of food that have been collected at our collection sites and JetBlue is bringing them down today. We are also deploying a ship owned by the state of New York, called the Empire State, for obvious reasons. The Empire State ship can obviously transport a large amount of containers and pallets, and can do it very quickly. It is now staged in Key West, Florida. So it can access Puerto Rico relatively quickly, and that ship is being loaded with pallets of supplies from the donated items that we’ve been collecting at the Javits Center. The Mets have collected goods at Citi Field, etcetera. But again, everything the Puerto Rico has been requesting, 22,000 bottles of water, containers of water, canned food, hygiene items, disinfectant wipes, batteries, flashlights, first aid kits, personal hygiene items.
The National Guard is deploying today. 60 more members from the 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation Regiment with 4 Blackhawk helicopters. The helicopters will be helpful in accessing the remote areas of the island that we’ve been talking about. They will be very, very helpful. They will be transported down on military aircraft and then deployed once they reach Puerto Rico. The governor asked for police help. You have power outages; you have people who are desperate. There is going to be a certain amount of looting. There is going to be a certain amount of theft. So, we’re sending 100 state troopers. The governor in Puerto Rico, Governor Rosselló signed an executive order that in effect deputizes NYS Police to function in Puerto Rico with legal authority. They’re going to be transported down by Delta Airlines which is doing this for us on very short notice.
I want to thank Ed Bastian who’s the head of Delta Airlines. But they will, starting tomorrow, bring down 100 state troopers. We’re sending down military police again, in terms of looting and making sure the situation is safe. There are national guard people who are trained as military police and they will be transported as well as their own transportation – 16 Humvees, so they can move around the island. The Humvees are probably the most mobile vehicles that we have. And they’ll bring their own supplies and we now calculate they’ll be dispatched for two weeks. The island also needs engineers and they need equipment. Much of this is damaged roads, damaged bridges, inaccessible towns because the roads are washed away. To get to the town first you need to repair the road and to repair the road you need personnel and equipment and the national guard will be sending down 125 engineers and road building equipment from the need D27 engineering company.
The Department of Transportation is going to be sending down 30 truck drivers with CDL, CDL commercial driver licensees. The governor said he needs help with truck drivers. They have goods in the port. They’re having trouble moving goods from the port throughout the island. Distribution is a problem. Distribution is a problem especially to the remote areas. They have vehicles. We’re sending more vehicles but they need more drivers that can handle these vehicles. And State Department of Transportation obviously operates snow plows and heavy equipment on highways and thruways and they’ll be sending down 30 truck drivers that are New York State employees. George Miranda from the Teamsters is going to be soliciting Teamsters that would be willing to go to Puerto Rico and help. Again, truck drivers and we want to thank them very much for their help.
Also, today we’re calling on the federal government to waive what’s called the Jones Act. Waiving the Jones Act would allow more ships to get to Puerto Rico faster and sooner and that is the top priority. We don’t have to get into the merits of the Jones and debating whether it should be permanently withdrawn but short term certainly with the urgency to get goods to Puerto Rico waive the Jones Act, get in as many ships as you can, wait a period of time, then when the emergency is over you can reinstate the Jones Act. Those are the actions we are taking up to date and again I’m very proud of New Yorkers and how they’ve responded and the generosity. The outpouring of these collection agencies is amazing. What people are giving, and not just well off people and rich people. It’s amazing how many people who are poor themselves and don’t have a lot of resources themselves are really scraping to make contributions to the people of Puerto Rico. I’ve been through a number of emergency situations as Governor. When things are at their worst, New Yorkers are at their best. They like to say New Yorkers are tough people, they sound tough and talk tough. We can be tough. New Yorkers are also the most compassionate, the most generous, the most giving people you can imagine. And they’ve proven that time and time again. And they’ve proven that once again with this situation. Puerto Ricans are their neighbors. We’ve grown up together. We know each other’s families. There are many people in Puerto Rico and have family in NY and vice versa.
And I’ll end where I started: this is personal. This is about helping family members. And there is nothing we won’t do. There is nothing we can be doing that we’re not doing and I want New Yorkers to know that. Anything we can do we will do. I understand how strongly New Yorkers feel about this. I understand their pain. I understand what it means not to be able to get in touch with family members where you mind goes to the worst case scenario. You don’t know who’s alive you don’t know who’s dead. This has gone on a number of days so anything this state can do we will do on any level.