Soldiers bring supplies to desperate Puerto Ricans

PHOTO: Boys carry water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with the U.S. Army dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017.PlayLucas Jackson/Reuters
WATCH Puerto Rico still reeling after Hurricane Maria

Sixteen days after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Maria de Lourdes Sandoval heard helicopters over her village of Bajura. She ran to signal them, forcefully waving her arms and crying for help as they touched down on a nearby soccer field. "I'm helpless. I don't have a home, don't have anywhere to live. I don't have furniture, no bed, no clothes,” Sandoval, 47, said.

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PHOTO: Residents hold their hands aloft to signal that they need water as UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters fly past during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Ciales, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017. Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Residents hold their hands aloft to signal that they need water as UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters fly past during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Ciales, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.

Hundreds of villages, isolated by power outages, impassable roads and downed telephone lines, are being helped by helicopter teams from the U.S. Army's First Armored Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade and the 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit.

Daily missions are flown out of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, which was closed in 2004 but is now being used by the Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy.

PHOTO: Crew chief Kenney shelters under the blade of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Divisions Dustoff unit preparing to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 6, 2017. Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Crew chief Kenney shelters under the blade of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit preparing to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 6, 2017.

“It hurts because I remember how it used to be, and now it's completely different,” said Sgt. First Class Eladio Tirado, who was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico. After not visiting for roughly five years, he returned home in a Blackhawk helicopter. “Everything is so much gone. The vegetation, everything is brown, everything is dead.”

PHOTO: Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, looks for a landing spot for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Ciales, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, looks for a landing spot for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Ciales, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.

On a recent mission over Luqillo, Tirado asked the pilots to fly over his family’s home because he had been unable to reach them by phone. The helicopter circled the house. No one was there, but Tirado was confident the message would reach his family: he’s here and he’s helping.

PHOTO: Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Divisions Combat Aviation Brigade, who is from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents as he helps during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, who is from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents as he helps during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.

Media reports led crews to the village of San Lorenzo, which had received no federal assistance since the hurricane. Dozens of people pressed against a fence to watch helicopters land, anxiously awaiting food and water. Crews are also transporting people to emergency centers and mapping open roads so trucks can make deliveries.

PHOTO: A message written on the rooftop is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, Oct. 10, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
A message written on the rooftop is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, Oct. 10, 2017.

Rooftop messages like one near Humacao come through loud and clear. "HELP USA PLEASE P.R." Near Ciales, as Blackhawks from the 1st Armored Division flew over, people on a rooftop reached toward the sky to signal they needed water. As helicopters scouted the island's mountainous interior one recent Saturday a woman held a jug in the air.

PHOTO: An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Divisions Dustoff unit lands in a field to avoid lightning during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Manati, Puerto Rico, Oct. 5, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field to avoid lightning during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Manati, Puerto Rico, Oct. 5, 2017.

They circled above houses built on top of mountains to find a level field to unload their precious cargo. One field looked open and a Blackhawk came within 8 feet of the ground, but it could not land. Loaded with 100 cases of water, the helicopter flew off, leaving behind thirst and desperation. The crew soon found another needy community, Verde de Comerío, where it was able to land.

PHOTO: Crew chief Alexander Blake from 101st Airborne Divisions Dustoff unit loads water into a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 5, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Crew chief Alexander Blake from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit loads water into a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 5, 2017.

Villagers quickly lined up to help soldiers pass food and water to a crowd. One woman hugged Pilot Chris Greenway to thank him for water. In less than 10 minutes, hundreds of bottles of water were given to families, emptying the helicopter.

PHOTO: Crew member Bynum stands in tropical rain as a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Divisions Dustoff unit prepares to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 6, 2017. Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Crew member Bynum stands in tropical rain as a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit prepares to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, Oct. 6, 2017.

This village also needed medicine and families with babies had no way of getting basics. Diapers and formula have become luxury goods. But every village asks for water. The lack of potable water is slowly choking these villages and helicopters can only carry so much. Every trip leaves some who get nothing.

PHOTO: UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Greenway receives a hug from a woman thanking him for water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.Lucas Jackson/Reuters
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Greenway receives a hug from a woman thanking him for water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, Oct. 7, 2017.

The crews can only hope they can return soon enough to make a difference. "This island will never stop,” Tirado said. “People will rebuild, we will continue forward, and they're going to see a better tomorrow.”

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