IDAHO FALLS — As Blanca Figueroa sat among her destroyed possessions in Puerto Rico Monday afternoon, she received a text message from her son in Salt Lake City.
“A plane from Melaleuca is offering a seat to take people out of the island.”
Figueroa wasn’t sure what to think. She knew her son wanted her safely in Utah with him but she also had family members in Puerto Rico, an island that Hurricane Maria ripped apart on Sept. 20.
“If I could erase one day from my life, that is (the) one day I want,” Figueroa told EastIdahoNews.com Thursday afternoon. “My country is devastated. My heart is suffering.”
3.4 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico and scientists have compared Hurricane Maria to a 50-mile-wide tornado that made a direct hit on the island. Water, food, and fuel are scarce, the airports are a mess and power will be out for months in some places.
A Melaleuca corporate plane loaded with generators and beef jerky left Idaho Falls Monday evening and dropped off the supplies in Puerto Rico Tuesday. That’s when CEO Frank VanderSloot posted a message on Twitter offering a way out of the island.
“Commercial planes have not been able to get in and out of Puerto Rico. We have a plane there now. Free passage for folks who need to leave…10 free seats available to Fort Lauderdale. Plane leaves in two hours.”
Commercial planes have not been able to get in and out of Puerto Rico. We have a plane there now. Free passage for folks who need to leave.
— Frank L VanderSloot (@FLVanderSloot) September 26, 2017
Figueroa decided to leave but had only one hour to pack a bag and get to the airport.
She said this was challenging as many roads are blocked with fallen trees, traffic lights don’t work and it’s nearly impossible to find fuel for vehicles.
“I was able to find a ride and it took forever to get to the plane but I finally got there,” Figueroa recalled.
The Puerto Rican native ended up flying to Idaho Falls on the plane without paying a dime. She has been staying with an old friend, who will drive her to Salt Lake City this weekend where she plans to stay for the immediate future.
“I can do more for my island from here than there,” Figueroa said. “We can do nothing there.”
Figueroa said her heart is full of gratitude for Melaleuca and VanderSloot. She believes angels have been watching over her and she will never forget the compassion that has been extended to her and her family.
“I feel highly blessed. I really believe in miracles and I know that the Lord answered the prayers of my son,” Figueroa said.