WTOC travels to St. Croix to deliver relief supplies with the 16 - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

WTOC travels to St. Croix to deliver relief supplies with the 165th Airlift Wing

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)
ST. CROIX (WTOC) -

Right now, the Savannah Air National Guard base is serving as the main hub and staging area for disaster relief efforts following Hurricane Maria, delivering supplies to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The base has already received national attention for these efforts and WTOC was the only local TV station to fly along on one of these missions with the 165th Airlift Wing to the island of St. Croix.

"We have a lot of ramp space here at the Savannah/Hilton Head Island International Airport, said Lt. Col. David Simons, Public Affairs Officer for the 165th Airlift Wing. “We can put out those planes to be in a relatively close proximity to both the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."

WTOC’s Elizabeth Rawlins flew down with the U.S. Air Force on Friday, September 22, just two days after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territories in the Caribbean.

This wasn't your typical flight to the Caribbean. It was bare bones on the C-130 military plane. Bench seats lined the walls and the sounds of the roaring engines forced us to wear ear plugs or even headphones.

It was no first class ticket but we were the first flight from Savannah to the U.S. Virgin Islands since Hurricane Maria because as of Friday, all commercial flights were still canceled. We were the only local TV station to travel with the 165th Air National Guard, but getting down there wasn't easy.

"How much of the route is being impacted by the storm?” Rawlins asked the pilot.

"I mean, we are probably going 45 minutes out of the way,” replied Capt. Tony Cravey.

The pilots had to navigate around changing weather conditions and countries with no-fly zones. But five and a half hours later, we finally made it to St. Croix.

As were coming in, we could see the devastation stretch for miles. That's when the reality set in about the immediate need for this mission.

There were only a handful of us on board including the crew because they needed as much room as possible for supplies. The plane was carrying 17,000 pounds of water and MREs, which are Meals Ready to Eat.

The only flights coming in and out of St. Croix's Henry Rohlsen Airport were military, including helicopters and other C-130s bringing supplies.

We were on the ground less than an hour, just long enough to refuel. But we didn't have to go far to find people who have been waiting on help for two days.

"We really appreciate that they are here and that they are helping and doing all that they can,” said St. Croix resident and Avis Rental Car employee, Ingrid Francis.

Francis says many of their rental cars were full of water.

"We had about six cars out here and they are all flooded,” said Francis. "I have a big tree. It fell on my house. My inside was flooded, but other than that, we have life. We're going to be fine. We're going to make it."

She's juggling damage at work, at home and mourning the loss of one of her best friends.

"One of my friends, she passed away. She had a heart attack and they weren't able to get to her in time,” said Francis. 

And a family of three says they barely survived the storm by hiding out in their closet.

"When the roof sounded like it was about to go, we all huddled in the closet,” said St. Croix resident Louella Johnson. "We lost everything; absolutely everything. Everything's underwater; the roof started peeling. I mean, the noise was horrible during the time."

After losing everything, the Johnson’s packed up what they could salvage and headed to the airport.

"We are just checking on our flight. We were scheduled to leave on Jet Blue on Monday and they said there are no flights going out right now,” said Johnson.

The Johnson’s want to be on the next one-way flight to the U.S. where they plan to start over.

"If it wasn't Harvey, it was Irma, it was Jose and now Maria. We can't even go to our friends and family [who live on other islands] in the Caribbean. We now have to go to the States." 

From just looking around, it was evident every person on St. Croix took some type of hit by Maria, but it seemed the force of the storm didn't break the spirit of these islanders.

"I have life. I have my family and I have my friends and I'm thankful for that. You know, everything else is just possessions," said Johnson. 

"We are going to be fine. We are going to make it,” said Ingrid Francis.

“You seem to be in good spirits,” Rawlins said to Francis.

"Oh yes! You can't be down in the Virgin Islands, this is paradise,” replied Francis.

Even though we were there to comfort these storm victims, hearing the hope and determination in their voices was even more comforting for us as we boarded the plane just 45 minutes after we arrived.

See our interview with Lt. Col. David Simons below: 

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