On September 29, Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International (SJU) and Rafael Hernandez Marín International (BQN) Airports were set to commemorate the 20th anniversary of TSA security operations there when Hurricane Fiona struck the Caribbean island.
The hurricane forced local TSA leadership to put their anniversary plans on hold.
“Due to the impact of Fiona, 80% of the island had no power and no water,” said Eva Guevara, executive assistant to Caribbean TSA Federal Security Director Mariely Loperena Moure. “Some employees are still suffering from power outages on a daily basis. Employees on the West and South Coasts suffered damages to their homes. One employee, who lives on a mountain, had to be rescued due to the rocks that fell and blocked their paths.”
SJU, BQN and the three other federalized Caribbean airports were still recovering from the devastation of Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017 when Fiona struck, leaving up to 20 inches of rain in southern Puerto Rico.
“The whole island was devastated due to the power outages,” Guevara recalled. “All refrigerated food spoiled and had to be thrown out, gas lines were long, the heavy rains continued and the floods made it impossible for those who lived in flooded areas.”
TSA Officer Gilberto Galarza said in times of need, SJU is there for employees.
“After Hurricane Fiona, not having water was an issue, and TSA SJU gave us bottles of drinking water since many supermarkets were running short,” said Galarza. “Some employees even received gift cards for gas and food. I am grateful for TSA SJU for all the help.”
Four weeks after Fiona struck Puerto Rico, SJU and BQN were able to hold their 20th anniversary ceremony. Guevara said it was full of joy and among a series of milestone TSA anniversary commemorations throughout the Caribbean.
TSA also celebrated the agency’s employees and two decades of service at Puerto Rico’s Mercedita International Airport (PSE) and two airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands – Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) on St. Croix.
TSA Officers Carlos Zambrana and Jerry Cruz were among the 133 employees at Luis Muñoz Marín celebrating their 20 years of service at TSA.
“My background comes from the hotel industry, and serving people is natural to me,” said Zambrana. “Protecting the nation from another September 11 has inspired me to continue working for TSA all these years.”
Cruz’s inspiration also comes from 9/11. “Before working with TSA, I worked at the airport and witnessed all the drastic changes due to September 11,” he said. “I then joined TSA and am committed to preventing another cowardly act and the loss of so many lives.”
Twelve employees at STX, 10 at STT and five at BQN also celebrated their two decades of TSA service.
When asked what it’s like to be on TSA Team Caribbean and enduring tough obstacles like Hurricane Fiona, SJU TSA Officer Maricarmen Garcia replied, “One feels the responsibility of being at work so those employees who live further away from the airport can be tapped out so they can make the arrangements needed when facing a hurricane. It is important to support the mission in times of need.”
Mercedita International Airport Supervisory TSA Officer Jannette Rivera Baez added, “It’s a reminder how we in the Caribbean are a close family and without a doubt help each other in times of need.”
“I believe in the mission of protecting the traveling public and deterring any other attacks,” explained Rafael Hernandez Marín International TSA Officer Anthony Valentin on why he is with TSA.
“Team Caribbean does not give up,” Guevara emphasized. “They join forces to beat all obstacles.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs