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“We picked up a lot of elderly people who may not have survived if they had to stay in the house another night,” said Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot Mark Thomas, an air interdiction agent with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations. “Air operations in Houston absolutely saved lives.”


Hurricane Irma struck Florida just 16 days after Harvey made landfall. Torrential rains and storm surges forced the evacuation of more than six million people as the storm marched north across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Some Caribbean islands were devastated; more than 90 percent of Barbuda’s buildings and vehicles were destroyed.


Puerto Rico suffered the brunt of Hurricane Maria when it hit there Sept. 20, making air resources paramount in transporting rescuers and supplies from the mainland. The storm knocked down almost all the island’s power lines, so it could take more than a year to restore electricity.


These mega-hurricanes tested U.S. disaster response teams perhaps more than ever before. While rescuers couldn’t stop Mother Nature, a coordinated air response helped prevent the death toll from being much worse. With 103 deaths preliminarily reported by the end of September from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, it was the 17th deadliest season on record since 1900.


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