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Ham operators deliver messages from Maria-battered Puerto Rico

Ham radio operator Bob Myers, 74, of Copaigue,

Ham radio operator Bob Myers, 74, of Copaigue, has been calling people across the United States to deliver messages from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria left the island entirely without power. Photo Credit: News 12 Long Island

Thanks to ham radio operators, some of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria survivors have been able to let worried families and friends in the United States know they made it through.

Bob Myers, 74, of Copiague, is one of the Long Islanders communicating with Puerto Rico, which was flattened Wednesday by the worst storm in a century, with this century-old technology.

Puerto Rico ham radio operators relay brief messages and telephone numbers of people in the United States to their counterparts.

‘It’s a wonderful feeling when you make that call, you can almost see the smile on the face,” said Myers, the vice president of the Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club.

Myers has been calling individuals all over the United States on behalf of people they know and love in Puerto Rico, though he did make one call to a 631 area code.

In life, he said, “There are some natural highs, and I got one this afternoon when I delivered that message, and I heard how happy they were.”

Maria ruined electrical and telephone systems, and flooded homes and businesses, often after ripping off roofs. Officials cannot yet estimate when vital systems, including water lines and sewers, will be restored, let alone how long recovery will take.

Bill Fastenau, III, 56, of Massapequa Park, a radio club director, said that in two hours, on just one channel, he heard about 50 requests relayed by Puerto Rico ham radio operators, from individuals hoping to let people on the mainland know that they survived the hurricane.

Currently, the traffic is just one-way — from Puerto Rico to the United States — and when people might be able to send messages back to Puerto Rico is another unknown.

For the moment, Myers explained, it is just too hard for Puerto Rico ham radio operators to locate the intended recipients — and they have had to jury-rig storm-damaged systems.

“Most of their antennas are not functioning right. . . . The signals are not very strong, they come and go, but they always have messages,” Myers said.

He has been in touch with a ham radio operator in Arecibo, in the north, who cannot stay on for long as he must conserve the gasoline that powers his generator.

“He said to me, ‘Bob, it looks like somebody dropped an atom bomb here, not only are the wires down on the telephone poles, the telephone poles are in the street, so you can’t travel around too much, there is no electricity, no running water.’ ” And fuel is scarce.

Fastenau explained the Long Island ham radio operators are using a net, a group of operators, run by the Salvation Army, called Satern.

The system relies on volunteers, like the radio club, which also sprang into action after superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“For the most part, this is individual hams in their homes,” Fastenau said.

People seeking information about Maria’s survivors in Puerto Rico can visit the American Red Cross’ Safe & Well website.

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