Rays lead relief mission to Puerto Rico, teaming with Moffitt, USF

The team chartered a Boeing 737 and is taking thousands of pounds of supplies to the hurricane-devastated island.

PONCE, Puerto Rico — Players, staff and coaches of the Tampa Bay Rays have watched in horror as Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall Sept. 20.

Hearing pleas from the Tampa Bay community with connections to the territory, senior director of public affairs Rafaela Amador Fink said the team knew it had to act.

They chartered a Boeing 737 and coordinated with several local agencies on what was most critical to bring to the island, which has been wiped of power and supplies. On Wednesday morning, the wheels went up and a relief mission clicked into gear.

Tampa-based Course of Action Foundation is bringing 11 generators and 22,000 pounds of medical and general supplies to Ponce Health Sciences University and two surrounding towns. Moffitt Cancer Center is on board to retrieve 3,000 tissue samples from the medical center, where generators are being pushed to their limits, threatening critical cancer research.

University of South Florida staff will be delivering 1,500 pounds in medicine, baby formula and other health supplies. And the Moffitt team will be picking up a group of patients and their caregivers to bring them to safety in Tampa.

Also on board is Rays pitcher Xavier Cedeno, who will travel to his hometown of Guayanilla, where he'll stay for three months in the offseason to assist his family and the community, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

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State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, is returning for the second time since Maria hit the island to survey the damage and help deliver supplies.

"It's worse there than people think," Cruz said. "These people are really in survival mode. I don't think people realize that. These folks are scared, they don't have water. These are Americans suffering."

The Tampa Bay Times is traveling along with the relief mission and will be on the ground in Puerto Rico. Check tampabay.com later for a complete story.

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.