Thousands of Puerto Ricans resettle in Florida after Hurricane Maria

World Today

Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico continues to struggle without electricity. Tens of thousands are leaving the island. Many of them are heading for the U.S. mainland, specifically Florida.

CGTN’s Steve Mort reports on how the state of Florida is coping with the influx.

Follow Steve Mort on Twitter @mobilemort

Ricardo Berrios is settling into his new home. Last month, he left his destroyed house near San Juan which he shared with his grandmother and uncle.

“Conditions are really bad,” Berrios said. “They have no water and that is really sad for me because my grandmother is a cancer patient. Her only option is to just hang in there.”

He said his only option was to move to Florida. “I’ve always lived in Puerto Rico, the island where I was born and raised. It was difficult for me to take that decision but I did.”

Berrios now lives with four other relatives in a crowded three bedroom apartment. But he hopes to afford his own house soon.

But for some Puerto Ricans who arrive in Florida without a job, finding somewhere to live can be difficult. The National Low Income Housing Coalition finds that Orlando has among the fewest affordable housing units in the United States.

Ana Cruz heads an office run by the Orlando city government that helps Puerto Ricans land on their feet. She points to a federal program set-up to pay for temporary hotel stays for new arrivals, with priority given to those in shelters. But she said, it offers only short-term relief.

“If you come to Florida, have a place to stay,” Cruz said. “Or have a friend who can have you in their home for at least three months while you get a job and then you can get your own place.”

Schools are enrolling thousands of new students from Puerto Rico. Osceola County schools near Orlando say they’re taking in as many as 50 Puerto Rican students a day. They estimate 1200 have joined the rolls since September.

“We have bilingual staff in all of our schools,” Kelvin Soto said, who’s the chairman of Osceola County School Board. “We’re constantly looking to hire and recruit staff and we’re hoping to get a lot of those new hires from the adults that are coming over here because of the hurricanes.”

Meanwhile, Ricardo Berrios recently found work in the cleaning department at an Orlando resort – a first step on what’s likely to be a long road to building a new life.