Dozens of desolate and anxious people stay overnight for hours and even days at the San Juan Airport ready to leave Puerto Rico in the face of a lack of basic services such as water and light after Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island five days.
The anguish of these passengers, some waiting since last Friday to escape the chaos and destruction caused by cyclone Maria on the island, is reflected in their faces, some with tears in their eyes from the lack of knowledge and confusion when they will reach someone else destination to reside.
The purpose of these travelers’ visits varies, among them, family emergencies, such as that of 16-year-old Kareimi Rivera, who have been waiting for a couple of days to leave Puerto Rico and reach their home in the state of Wisconsin.
Rivera told Efe that she and her mother were supposed to be returning to the US last Wednesday at 0800 local time (12:00 GMT), but the airline canceled her flight on Monday, when Puerto Ricans were preparing to the impending scourge of Mary, a powerful category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds.
Rivera and his mother arrived in Puerto Rico, specifically the municipality of Ponce (south), because their grandmother operated it.
However, due to the cancellation of the trip, Rivera witnessed his first hurricane.
Due to the cyclone, the electrical system in Puerto Rico collapsed, most of the water system, as well as telecommunications, which caused that the majority of the population was incommunicado, as much by the fall of the mobile phones and the internet .
This then has led to people who do not have internet service, have to go directly to the airport sanjuanero looking for some solution to leave the island, such as Rivera and his mother, making a trip of at least two hours from Ponce to capital.
“Yesterday we came and we were four hours waiting.Today we came back and we took two.We are doing the line again so that today we are told to come tomorrow and wait for us to be placed on a flight,” Rivera said.
“It was my first hurricane and it was a disaster. My grandmother’s house lost all its roof,” she continued, adding that she did not want to leave the island “because my family is here.”
In view of this, the executive director of Aerostar – managing company of the San Juan Airport – Agustín Arellano, explained today at a press conference that the major problem of air transport is because there are problems in the radars that handle the air traffic and the repeater stations of communications were destroyed.
“Because of this, the number of operations has been reduced so that there is a safety check in the air, because what we do not want is that with such critical situations there is a collision and put at risk the services of any airline,” said Arellano .
“We are all aware of the need to increase flight numbers.
Many people want to leave the island. We recognize that there are discomforts, but I have not found someone who does not have it. You have to be calm and confident that this will improve, “he emphasized.
Arellano accepted that around 300 people have stayed overnight at the airport and give them “minimum conditions” of relief, although they have the option of eating in a restaurant that operates 24 hours and there is a store that sells water.
“The problem is they do not want to move because they say they are in rows to be mounted on the planes,” he said.
“I understand the situation of chaos. In a hundred years there was something like that in Puerto Rico.
The airport ensures the largest number of flights in and out to get food and support, “Arellano said of the operation of the airport to host military aircraft that bring aid to the islanders.
The capital airport, however, began operating last Thursday, a day after the cyclone struck, but only when it received military aircraft and emergency aid.
The next day, the aerodrome began operating commercial passenger flights to Miami, but only ten a day.
Among those trips was the visit of New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Puerto Rican Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez to bring humanitarian aid to the island.
The airlines that are operating so far are American Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest, Delta and Spirit.
However, Arellano said that from this Wednesday the airlines of Colombia’s Avianca, Panamanian Copa, Spain’s Iberia and Mexico’s Volaris will begin operations.
Likewise, two of the four terminals of the airport -B and D- were damaged, and safety checks are in place.