National Guard troops based at Fort Sheridan were flown to Puerto Rico by airlift wings out of Scott Air Force Base and Peoria on Saturday morning.
The soldiers were sent to the island after Gov. Bruce Rauner announced Saturday that he is sending about 150 Illinois Army National Guard soldiers to help the U.S. territory in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The Illinois Air National Guard currently has about 60 Airmen on the island assisting with relief efforts from bases in Springfield, Peoria and Edwardsville.
Rauner sent a letter to Ricardo Rossello, governor of Puerto Rico, a month ago, saying Illinois would mobilize troops if asked.
Using the Emergency Management Assistance Company, a state-to-state mutual aid system, Puerto Rico requested Illinois’ assistance.
“The people of Illinois prove time and time again that we rally together in times of crisis,” Rauner said. “Our fellow Americans need us. Many of them have lost everything. I’m proud that we can step up and send our Guard troops in to help relieve some of the pressure they’re experiencing in Puerto Rico.”
On Sept. 20, the hurricane devastated the U.S. territory, cutting off power for the entire island of 3.5 million people.
The official death toll on the island stands at 55, but the number of dead may be almost as high as 500, Puerto Rico Mayor Yulín Cruz said according to CNN.
“Hurricane Maria has caused terrible devastation in Puerto Rico,” Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., the adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, said. “We are proud to respond to the needs of our fellow citizens as the Minutemen have done for more than 380 years.”
The National Guard also has troops assisting with hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.