Puerto Rico plays key role in Irma evacuation effort

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A ferry from El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, transported stranded tourists on St. John to the resort on Sept. 10.
A ferry from El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, transported stranded tourists on St. John to the resort on Sept. 10.

Puerto Rico, which escaped major damage from Hurricane Irma when the storm skirted its northeast coast on Sept. 7, is playing an important role as a transient hub for visitors evacuated from other Caribbean islands.

Evacuation efforts over the past week have brought more than 3,000 tourists to Puerto Rico.

In addition, the island is serving as a mobilization center for the collection of supplies and donations.

"We're fortunate that nearly all hotels in Puerto Rico are operational and it is business as usual. Our Caribbean neighbors need support so we are taking in travelers who have had their vacations disrupted," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

Marriott hotels -- including the San Juan Marriott, Sheraton Puerto Rico and AC Hotel by Marriott -- have welcomed approximately 700 travelers from St. Thomas, St. John and St. Maarten.

The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar has received 300 travelers from St. Thomas as well as crew from the St. Thomas air traffic control center who travel daily to and from St. Thomas.

The staff members of FEMA are staying at the InterContinental San Juan to lead the disaster response and recovery efforts.

Hotels in the San Juan area -- including the Verdanza, Condado Plaza and the Caribe Hilton -- are mobilizing the local community to gather donations.

The government of Puerto Rico has set up operational bases at the San Juan airport to assist transient passengers arriving in C-130 aircraft and get them to the hotels on island. The U.S. National Guard has transported more than 2,000 tourists and brought them to Puerto Rico for lodging, food and medical assistance.

Anyone interested in setting up a home base in Puerto Rico to help with post-hurricane Irma efforts should visit the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management's website.

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