There’s a growing crisis at the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport where people are waiting for the few seats available on flights in increasingly desperate conditions.
According to The Miami Herald, San Juan’s Luis Marín Muñoz International Airport is “functioning with little electricity and badly damaged air-traffic control systems.” The U.S. territory was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, leaving it without power.
According to USA Today, “Airlines, which have canceled dozens of flights over the past week, began commercial flights to the U.S. on Friday. Passengers wait in long lines inside terminals running on backup generators with no air conditioning. Many have spent the night inside the steamy terminals, hoping for a chance to leave.”
“It’s like the end of the world,” Andrew Arteaga told USA Today. Arteaga was at the airport for five nights with his wife and infant daughter, the newspaper reported.
CBS News reported on September 25 that “more than 1,000 people slept in the airport overnight waiting for a flight; they had nowhere else to go.”
One nurse from Little Rock called the situation “inhumane,” saying people lacked food and water.
Patricia Mazzei, a political reporter for the Miami Herald, wrote on Twitter, “SJU airport is a mess. Terminal is powerless: dark, hot and absolutely packed with stranded travelers and would-be travelers.” She added, “Airport employees working with battery-operated lanterns like for camping. Boarding passes are filled out by hand if you’re lucky to get one.”
Is the airport open or closed? It’s open – but barely. According to The Wall Street Journal, only about 10 flights are leaving Puerto Rico each day, compared to about 176 flights per day before. That’s left thousands of people stranded, according to the WSJ.
However, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote on September 25 that more flights are resuming. “Commercial Airline Service Resumes in San Juan,” the FAA wrote.
“Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) hurricane recovery efforts are now supporting more than a dozen commercial passenger flights per day at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the agency continues to restore radars, navigational aids and other equipment damaged during Hurricane Maria, the number of commercial flights is expected to continue to increase. The airport handled nearly 100 total arrivals and departures yesterday, including the military and relief operations.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on September 25 that “only about 2,000 passengers are flying out every day despite standby lists that are in the tens of thousands” and that the airport is “missing radar” because of the storm, which is why flights are spaced out so much. The airport lacked air conditioning and only one concession stand was open, according to the newspaper.
“The airport in San Juan is open, but it’s far from running at full capacity. So it’s taking some arrivals and turning others away. That means the waiting travelers aren’t just sitting and waiting for word. They’re booking, boarding and having to back out,” reports WUKY.
Some have urged President Trump and FEMA to do more for Puerto Rico.
The FAA added, “The FAA also airlifted a mobile air traffic control tower back to St. Thomas over the weekend to support the relief and recovery missions there. The tower at Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas was initially damaged by Hurricane Irma, and the FAA brought in the mobile tower to help manage traffic. However, the FAA removed the tower to the mainland in advance of Hurricane Maria, to protect it during the storm. The agency shuttles the controllers who staff the tower from San Juan to St. Thomas and back every day.”
In addition, wrote the FAA, “Preliminary FAA damage assessments have identified a number of critical radars and navigational aids that were destroyed or disabled during the storm. The FAA is bringing replacement systems to the islands by air and by sea to restore essential radar, navigation and communication services and technicians are working on many of those systems now. A long-range radar in the Turks and Caicos returned to service this morning, giving air traffic controllers a much better picture of the planes and helicopters operating in the area.”
You can read the full FAA statement here. The FAA advises prospective travelers to stay in close contact with their airline.
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According to Reuters, “A microcosm of the battered island, the San Juan airport is a top priority in efforts by Puerto Rico’s cash-strapped government to repair the vast damage caused by Maria. Experts say the work will take months and likely run into tens of billions of dollars. Closed for days following the storm, the airport is a major test of Puerto Rico’s ability to transport people and supplies and overcome the communications vacuum that has plagued the island since the storm.”