STUART, Fla. — A relief group in Stuart is finding a way to clear the Bahamian customs red tape before reaching the islands. For days they've been loading a Black Hawk helicopter with supplies at the Stuart Jet Center bound for some of the hardest hit areas in the Bahamas. Some of those flights though were grounded by Bahamian customs Sunday, but on Monday the group found a better way around the customs red tape.
Two Bahamian customs officials are now clearing supplies and helicopter flights at the hangars before they even take off. This is allowing the Puerto Rico Relief Flight group's pilot to get the chopper where it's going without having to stop at any entry ports in the Bahamas.
"What they wanted us to do was land the helicopters in a port of entry where there's a runway and offload the stuff, check it, and load it back on. There's not enough fuel or time to do that, that's a waste of our resources," said Patrick Price, Captain of Daymaker Charters.
Now the flights carrying food, water, and survival supplies can head to the areas still hard to reach by plane or boat.
"Before any boats were able to get there [Grand Cay], we were able to drop off close to 15,000 pounds of relief to them, lots of hugs, very welcomed, the kids had smiles on their faces," said Price.
Charles Conigliaro is the President of Stuart Sailfish Club, also part of the command post operations at the hangar.
"I'm getting calls every 5 minutes from people that get my phone number, ask me for help, it's sad. It really is, it's tragic," said Conigliaro.
The group still needs volunteers to help organize supplies and donations for fuel. Joseph Rieger, owner of Blue Marlin Cove Resort Marina in Grand Bahama said he's seen how resilient the Bahamian people are and how they are hanging on in good spirits.
"One of the first gentlemen we came in contact with, the pilot Alex and I, we went up and gave him a hug. I said do you want to get out of here and he said 'No man, I'm going to stay, I need to fix up my lawn' and I kind of laughed and he said, 'Well, I don't have a lawn do I?' And I said, we'll get you some miracle grow and we'll come back and we'll get a lawn going," said Rieger.
The group still needs volunteers for the next few days to help sort and pack supplies at the Stuart Jet Center hangars from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.