A group of Minnesota law enforcement officers is planning to head to Puerto Rico early next week to help out with hurricane-relief efforts.
The Spanish-speaking volunteers — 10 police officers from St. Paul, four troopers from the State Patrol and one officer from Carver County — hope to fly to the island on Monday and spend two weeks there helping with Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Pamela Barragan, an acting commander for St. Paul police and one of the volunteers. “We are called to help people.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent out a request to law enforcement agencies across the nation asking for officers who could volunteer on the island, Barragan said. She and nine others from the St. Paul Police Department signed on shortly after; Chief Todd Axtell approved the trip Friday.
The volunteer officers are not sure what they will be tasked with but are packing and preparing for any occasion.
“We’re just going there to help with whatever assignment,” Barragan said. “It’s law enforcement helping another law enforcement agency.”
Hurricane Maria tore through the Caribbean about 10 days ago, ripping through the Atlantic as a Category 5 storm and causing immeasurable damage to various islands. That included the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, both U.S. territories that were flooded by Hurricane Irma just weeks earlier.
Dozens were killed in Puerto Rico and much of the island was left without electricity or necessary supplies. The mayor of San Juan, its capital, issued a desperate plea for help Friday, drawing online retorts by President Donald Trump.
Barragan, who hails from Ecuador, has been to Puerto Rico three times, the first being her honeymoon in 2013. She said she remembers the island as a welcoming place, and realizes that this time she won’t be going as a tourist. “It will be a little bittersweet to go and to see places that might not be there that I remember,” she said.
The group is still waiting on a final confirmation from the federal government and Puerto Rico, which has to “manage all the assets that are coming in … and not overwhelm the population,” Barragan said.
“It’s really an honor and a privilege that we are able to go,” she said.
Minnesotans, armed or otherwise, were deployed to help other areas of the country hit by natural disasters this summer. Soldiers from a Minnesota National Guard brigade were sent to Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in early September. State volunteers for the Red Cross and Salvation Army also helped in relief efforts for Harvey and Irma.