Patrickswell native Pat Foley, back row centre, with staff of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico, during the massive relief effort after Hurricane Maria
A LIMERICK native based in Puerto Rico has proven instrumental in a major aid effort on the devastated island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Pat Foley, CEO of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico, from Patrickswell, pulled out all the stops to bring essential supplies to his hundreds of employees, their families and local schools and nursing homes, after the Category 5 hurricane ripped through the Caribbean island.
Pat and the global Lufthansa team rallied behind the local community after the hurricane made landfall on September 20, raging on for 18 hours.
Returning to the company’s base on September 22, Pat said that he found the facility intact. Up to 100 employees also turned up just hours after the storm calmed, eager to get the operation back up and running.
“We recognised immediately that what they needed from us was to take care of them. Many of them had left very difficult situations at home. Many of them had lost large parts of their homes.
“We set out to try and see how best we could support them. Over that weekend, communications outside and within the island were practically impossible. It was very clear on the western part of the island where we are based, Aguadilla, that there was no support coming,” said Pat, a brother of former council executive Paul Foley who is known for his involvement in the GAA.
“Thankfully I got access to a phone on Monday, and began to speak with our headquarters in Germany. I explained the situation that we were in, and the support that our 400 employees and their families needed.”
The team made the decision not to wait for aid, “to take ownership” of the situation and send supplies privately, as a matter of urgency. The company put out a call for support, and approximately 89 tonnes of water, food, sanitation, baby food and other supplies were purchased, donated and loaded onto a Lufthansa cargo aircraft.
“That aircraft flew out five days after my initial call. It flew out on Saturday night from Frankfurt, and arrived on Sunday morning, bringing that much needed aid to our employees and their families. It has been a huge relief for everyone,” explained Pat.
“In the first days after the visit of Hurricane Maria, our thoughts were with the employees and their families. But as the extent of the damage really became known, we made a decision to also support our local community,” he added.
The team, under Pat’s leadership, segregated one of the base’s five maintenance bays as a humanitarian bay, where they have taken in more than 150 tonnes of aid – provided directly by Lufthansa and also from other agencies and non-profit organisations who are using the air base. The hangar is being used to store and distribute large volumes of essential goods.
“It took us almost 2 weeks before we could fully account for each and every one of our employees’ safety and wellbeing. There is widespread devastation. Many families have lost homes, and we have one employee in particular who not only lost her home but also her grandparents’ house was destroyed,” said Pat.
The Puerto Rican arm of air giant Lufthansa also partnered with schools and local centres in three of their neighbouring municipalities – Moca, Aguadilla, and Isabela.
Pat lived on Fr Russell Road and worked at Shannon Aerospace before making the big move with his wife and four kids in 2015. He became the CEO in June of this year.
During Hurricane Maria, the windows at the family home were blown in – but “the people that need help are those who don’t have the advantages of having a company behind them, and people who don’t have jobs,” he said.
He paid tribute to his colleagues within the company, who made the incredible show of support – “something that Lufthansa can really be proud of” – happen.
“I’m very proud of our people here in Puerto Rico, particularly in the weeks post-Maria where they’ve really shown in large numbers their commitment to restarting operations while dealing with their own personal tragedies, and helping us to support the local community.”