The one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria challenged not only the residents of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands but also the U.S. Coast Guard itself as it brought help and supplies to decimated areas.

Sector Key West was “absolutely destroyed” by Irma, Capt. Austin Gould, chief of staff of the Seventh Coast Guard District said as he showed pictures of a “full-on tent city” with no power and no air conditioning. Fearing Irma would wipe out the Miami headquarters, he and 150 of his staff were operating initially from St. Louis.

Not long after Irma, Maria “cut Puerto Rico in half,” Gould said Wednesday at the opening session of the International WorkBoat Show. While getting back on its feet, the Coast Guard flew 3 million pounds of cargo to Florida and Puerto Rico using C130s and more goods by Coast Guard cutter.

The most shocking thing he saw in Puerto Rico was “the total devastation to the infrastructure” in the western part of the island, he said. For a long time, the Coast Guard was the only federal help in that area. “We had locals surrounding the fence line looking for food and water.”

Back in Florida, the Coast Guard is still doing cleanup — removing 2,500 vessels “that were strewn all over the place,” Gould said. About 600-700 remain.

As for future recovery efforts, “You cannot place enough emphasis on timely surveys of port facilities,” Gould said. Without them, the Coast Guard can’t open ports, and locals will scream for supplies. “It was logistically challenging.”

And in keeping with the day’s maintenance and report theme, he urged the audience as they’re doing repairs to keep in touch with the Coast Guard “early and often.”

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.