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Hudson firefighter aids hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico

By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 bathe a dog while in Puerto Rico.

Hudson – Hudson firefighter John Carolan spent a week on an island lucky to have dodged the full force of Hurricane Irma. He returned less than a week after leaving to find that same island decimated by the direct hit of Hurricane Maria.

“It was hard to find a leaf on a tree anywhere,” he said. “The island that I saw when I was there for Irma, which was tropical and green, was brown.”

Carolan spent much of September aiding the response to back-to-back hurricanes in Puerto Rico on behalf of FEMA. A 13-year veteran of the Hudson Fire Department and an eight-year veteran of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Massachusetts task force, he aided local first responders in the immediate aftermath of both storms.

Prior to last month’s deployment, Carolan traveled with the task force to assess damage and communicate with storm victims near New York City after Superstorm Sandy struck in 2012.

He arrived in Puerto Rico Sept. 8, just under five years after his last hurricane deployment and a day after Hurricane Irma made its closest pass past the island. While parts of Puerto Rico did lose power, Carolan said his work after Irma focused largely on moving recourses to the U.S. Virgin Islands which faced the core of the storm as it struck.

He and his team then left Puerto Rico Sept. 14, just as the National Weather Service began tracking Maria hundreds of miles to the east.

“There was an understanding that Maria may pose a problem but I don’t think that early on that anybody knew the scope of what was going to happen there and how much of a direct hit it was going to be,” he said.

On Sept. 20, however, Carolan was headed back to Puerto Rico just as the storm finished the direct hit many feared.

After Maria, he and his team spent much of their time canvassing the island’s western half to meet leaders of communities cut off from the rest of the island by everything from fallen trees to rockslides.

While his team could not provide the goods many of those communities needed, they relayed those needs up to “big FEMA” which, Carolan said, will route aid to isolated communities when responders can restore access to those villages.

“If there’s no way to get commodities to people, then there’s just no way to do it,” he said, also noting that he feels anger about the federal response to Maria may be misplaced. “That’s the unfortunate reality in this type of a storm. Nobody is responsible for it and sometimes, logistically, you can only do what you can do.”

Carolan left Puerto Rico once again Sept. 28. After a month spent flying between his home and the now devastated island more than 1,500 miles away, he is grateful to his family and his community for supporting him.

“The fact that 37 of us from Massachusetts went over to Puerto Rico is a story, but the real story is what has to happen here back at home,” he said. “My wife did every hockey practice, every game, every tutoring and music lesson, all the homework. I certainly could not have done what I did without her.”

(Photos/submitted)

Members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 stand near a helicopter in Puerto Rico. The limited number of helicopters on the island served as the only way to get aid to some of the most isolated communities after the storm.

Members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 gather in a storm-damaged Puerto Rican roadway.

Members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 gather near a hospital in Puerto Rico. Many hospitals on the island where running low on fuel when task force members reached them days after the storm.

Members of the Massachusetts Task Force 1 and a force protection officer (center) ride a vehicle through a Puerto Rican street.

Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=94532

Posted by on Oct 10 2017. Filed under Byline Stories, Hudson, Neighbors helping neighbors, Neighbors in the news, People and Places, Stories With Good Photos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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