By: Arlene Satchell | Contact Reporter
With vital emergency supplies, food and medicine still not reaching countless hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and other stricken Caribbean islands, private air and yacht charters are stepping in to render aid.
Several relief missions in recent days have departed from South Florida airports and marinas bound for Caribbean islands decimated by hurricanes Maria and Irma — and more are on the way.
Early Saturday, two private planes are set to depart from National Jets at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport carrying 100 water purification systems and satellite phones for delivery to residents in hard-to-reach communities on the west coast of Puerto Rico.
The charters are organized by the San Francisco-based family foundation of Puerto Rican-born private equity investor Orlando Bravo. The foundation has committed up to $10 million to sponsor hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. territory.
The purification systems will provide nearly 10,000 people with long-term access to potable water, while the satellite phones will help provide communications for isolated municipalities, the foundation said.
"There will hopefully be significant federal aid coming to the island," said Orlando Bravo, in a statement. "But centralized efforts, no matter how large and well-coordinated, still leave gaps."
On Thursday, another private jet departed the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport for San Juan loaded with nearly 2,000 pounds of food, medicine and other emergency supplies.
That relief trip was organized by Stronger & Better Together, a grassroots campaign of local businesses and residents led by John Tolbert, president of the Boca Raton Resort & Club and Boca Raton resident Tania Collazo, a native Puerto Rican.
Tolbert and Collazo solicited and received support from businesses including Pinnacle Advertising and Marketing Group and Delray Medical Center. The sponsors set up a GoFundMe page to collect donations for additional hurricane recovery efforts.
"It's a long road to recovery," Tolbert said Friday after returning from the trip. "We're planning to send another plane down next weekend."
Tolbert, who has maintained business interests in Puerto Rico since 1990, said a critical component to the island's recovery will be getting community stores, mini-markets and gas stations reopened.
Pinnacle CEO Peter Gary, who flew on the mission trip, said he was shocked by the devastation and despair he saw.
Some residents he met were worried about having access to food to feed their families or not having power to keep dialysis machines working.
"I don't think people realize just how much devastation is down there," Gary said. "The people are in desperate need but there's so much red tape."
Late Tuesday, a charter flight organized by the Eagles Wings Foundation arrived at Palm Beach International Airport from San Juan with several elderly and at-risk evacuees in need of medical attention.
"We had a chance to make a difference and we are honored to be a part of this life-saving mission," said Christian Searcy, president of the law firm Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart and Shipley P.A., which sponsored the extraction trip.
Owners and operators of private mega yachts are also offering a lifeline to other eastern Caribbean islands.
On Sunday, the 157-foot motor yacht Dorothea III is slated to return to Fort Lauderdale following a mission to the Turks & Caicos. The vessel delivered drinking water supplies and humanitarian aid, according to relief organizer YachtAid Global.
The owner of the $50 million yacht provided the vessel, its crew and fuel free of charge to facilitate the trip, YachtAid said.
Separately, the luxury yacht M/Y Grey Matter is scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale with relief donations Tuesday for residents on St. Maarten and Barbuda, said Staci Love, marketing manager of the Lauderdale Marine Center boatyard, which helped to promote the trip.
The donations aboard the yacht will include batteries, flashlights, children's and adult clothing, baby diapers, dental hygiene products and medical supplies, Love said.