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They've collected tons of supplies for Puerto Rico, but they can't get a plane to deliver them

Emergency relief supplies ready to be flown to Puerto Rico sit inside Pemco World Air Services hangar at Tampa International Airport on Friday. Organizers are frustrated that they haven't been able to fly the supplies out yet. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Emergency relief supplies ready to be flown to Puerto Rico sit inside Pemco World Air Services hangar at Tampa International Airport on Friday. Organizers are frustrated that they haven't been able to fly the supplies out yet. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sep. 30, 2017

TAMPA — More than 100 tons of food and water sat in a packed hangar this weekend waiting to be flown to Puerto Rico.

There are more warehouses just like this one across the bay area, stocked with diapers, food, generators and bottled water donated by Floridians to ease the suffering of millions. Volunteers on the devastated American territory are waiting, already coordinating with churches to ensure the so desperately needed goods go to the right people.

The only thing missing is the actual plane to deliver the supplies.

Volunteers say a mess of bureaucracy and false promises from a private charter company have left them exhausted, frustrated and desperate to get the items to the struggling island that was devastated by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20.

"I've started to reach out to every celebrity I can think of," said Yvette Cowdrey, a former station manager for Frontier Airlines who volunteered to help organize the effort. "We are not looking for a handout, just for a connection. We have people in Puerto Rico waiting on us."

For nearly a week, volunteers say, the Peruvian company that was supposed to come to ferry the supplies in a DC-8 hasn't shown up. They said delays caused by complicated regulations and unforeseen circumstances have stalled the relief effort.

"We have three warehouses filled with donations," Cowdrey said, "and the donations are still coming in. We are running out of space for it."

The DC-8 can hold the equivalent of 108 wooden pallets of supplies. The plan was to fly it back and forth from Tampa International Airport until all the supplies had been dropped off. The plane is just a few hours away in Greensboro, N.C., organizers said.

It was supposed to land on Monday. They were told on Saturday it would be coming that day, but some were losing faith in that ever happening.

"I hope we're not getting scammed," said Thomas Black, who owns T Black Aviation in Clearwater.

Black, who served in the Air Force for 23 years, said he's even contacted the Puerto Rican National Guard to see if it could fly in C-130 transport planes to pick up the supplies. "They haven't said no, they just have to get authorization," Black said.