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Va. firefighters return to Puerto Rico to help after Hurricane Maria

Posted at 1:17 PM, Sep 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-21 13:28:35-04

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia firefighters are back in Puerto Rico to help with search and rescue efforts after Hurricane Maria.

Virginia Task Force 2 Urban Search and Rescue Team (VATF-2) is in San Juan with about 20 firefighters, five of those are from the Henrico County Fire Department. The group just returned from a previous mission in Puerto Rico.

CBS6 spoke to Deputy Task Force Leader Michael Barakey via FaceTime on Thursday. He explained with what the group will be tasked.

"Anything from the search of collapsed buildings, rescue efforts, whatever we find. Water--could be moving water, could be swift water,” he said. “Today is the day that we were able to get out and actually perform for recon. So we have three teams that are out on the island, working the east side, central and west side.”

The team can be deployed by FEMA to respond to emergencies. They were deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma and then came back to face the aftermath of  Hurricane Maria.

"Our task force arrived Saturday morning to Norfolk international and we were back on the road Monday morning. So got about a day and a half with our families," Barakey said.

Barakey said this time around, they're dealing with a lot more damage and zero communication, as the entire island is without power.

"We are dependent on sending our own people into the island and learning from the locals, and from there sending the rest of our team to perform for search and rescue based on what we are receiving as intel,” he said.

This is the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years. Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs and unloaded at least 20 inches of rain.

Wednesday, the firefighters spent the day clearing debris and downed trees just to be able to get their crews out.

"The compound took a very heavy hit here where we're at. Bring a lot of remediation here,” said Barakey.