Hurricane Irma hit. The Turks and Caicos Islands are normally a lush, green tourist destination, but the . Eighty percent of the buildings were extensively damaged on St. John, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. People there had to walk miles for water and ready-to-eat meals.
The families that landed in Puerto Rico Monday night had to survive for nearly a week after Irma crippled nearby St. Martin. Many got by in shelters, on rations, hiding from looters, until the National Guard's C-130s started to land, reports CBS News' Tony Dokoupil.
At a makeshift security gate secured by Dutch and U.S. special operations, U.S. Embassy worker Lee Hilgartner rushed to vet passengers for the flight home.
"What we're doing is prioritizing, we've been getting the medical emergencies out, but there are still people who have been staying in relative's houses or other people's homes," Hilgartner said.
Hurricane Irma decimated St. Martin. It was one of the strongest storms ever recorded, but for many there, the aftermath was even more menacing.
Susan Coquin, who found a spot on a charter flight, is one of the many who lost nearly everything in the storm.
"Went through the storm, got looted and robbed. My place blew up. Forty years of my life was here," Coquin said.
The tarmac filled with even more people – all of them cleared for the flight back to San Juan and back to America.
After so many days on edge, sleep comes first for a lot of the passengers. But when the doors open it's clear that it feels good to be home.
The National Guard and State Department personnel on the ground say about 375 Americans got out on Monday, on three different flights. That's just about everyone. Which means that starting Tuesday, the mission will shift from rescue to the long recovery.