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Soldiers purify water in Hurricane Maria relief efforts

By Staff Sgt. Elvis Umanzor | 49th Public Affairs Detachment | Oct. 11, 2017

QUEBRADILLAS, Puerto Rico — U.S. Army active and reserve soldiers set up water purification systems to provide safe, potable water to the residents around Guajataca Lake in Puerto Rico, Oct. 9, 2017, after the local water treatment facility was damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Soldiers of the 247th Composite Supply Company, 68th Combat Support Supply Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Co., and U.S. Army Reserve soldiers of the 973rd Quartermaster Company, in Ceiba, 346th Transportation Battalion, 166th Regional Support Group, 1st Mission Support Command, and representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coordinated the setup of a water purification and distribution point as the Department of Defense conducts Defense Support for Civil Authorities to provide disaster relief efforts in the region.

“We are here as part of the DSCA mission, said 1st Lt. Leo Kasmer, a platoon leader with the 247th CSC. “When an area experiences a natural disaster, or any type of catastrophe, and the local resources are pushed to their limits, we come in and help.”

Soldiers slowly maneuvered through tight, narrow roads obstructed by debris and downed power lines, until they found a local fishing club in Quebradillas, whose members gratefully greeted the soldiers and were more than happy to assist and begin operations.

Jose Ghigliotty, the fishing club’s vice president and a Lares native, said the military helping was the best thing that happened since the hurricane.
“We are going to have clean water, which is very important right now,” said Ghigliotty. “This is a big, big help.”

“We need [the Army] because we don’t have any water, electricity,” said Joel Cortez, a club member from Lares. “I’m very happy you are here helping us.”

The local residents cut trees and cleared space for the soldiers to setup their Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units and Tactical Water Purification Systems, capable of providing 300,000 gallons of clean water daily.

Soldiers connected hose to hose, ran the hoses into the lake to pump the water, tested the water to ensure safe human consumption levels, and filled three bladders to help meet the resident’s needs.

Residents of Isabella, Sebastian, Quebradillas and other small towns in the region depend on Guajataca Lake for drinking, cooking, agriculture, fishing and recreational use, and many expressed their gratitude to see the military in their towns.

“It means a lot, because we can actually see that there is an interest to help Puerto Rican people,” said Coral Diaz-Piferrer Acevedo, a biology student and Las Marillas native.

Addy Acevedo, Corals mom and a medical technician, said it was a breath of fresh air to see the soldiers.

“It’s nice to see, not to hear that the help is getting hear, but to see the help,” Addy said. “We are very grateful because we know you are leaving your comfort zone, you are leaving your families to help us … and it makes us feel very safe and hopeful.”

Addy said some communities in Las Marias didn’t have road access, but supplies were arriving slowly, and that it was a time to share and help each other.

Kasmer, a Belmont, North Carolina, native, said his team faced many challenges traversing dangerous terrain, but he was proud of his soldiers.

“My soldiers are well trained, they have overcome some strong challenges,” he said. “We are here to help the Puerto Ricans; that’s why we are here, and we intend to do our job.”

Spc. Timothy Stimson, a water purification specialist with the 247th CSC, said it meant a lot to him to be part of the disaster relief efforts on the island.

“I really appreciate the fact I can come here and do my best to help the people of Puerto Rico,” said Stimson, an Orford, New Hampshire, native. “Every time I drive by, they’re waving and yelling ‘gracias.’”

“It’s wonderful,” added Stimson. “I know they appreciate us, and I appreciate them.”