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Puerto Ricans Arrive In Southwest Florida After Hurricane Maria

From left to right: Ana Gonzalez, Josefa David, Nicole Reyes and her 1.5-year-old son
Quincy J Walters
From left to right: Ana Gonzalez, Josefa David, Nicole Reyes and her 1.5-year-old son

Family members who fled Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated their town of Coamo gathered for dinner in a Lehigh Acres home this week.

The continental U.S. is expecting an influx of people from Puerto Rico. Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in order to get aid for accommodating people from the island. 

Ariel Rivera, who lives in the Lehigh residence, went to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport a few days ago to pick up his family that fled Puerto Rico. He got them the first plane tickets he could. 

"My niece lost everything, my mother-in-law suffered some damage," said Rivera. "Where they were at, in that town, the help hadn't arrived yet. They were down to the bitter end of the food." 

Rivera said when Maria hit Puerto Rico, it took five "stressful" days for him to make contact with his family. 

His niece, Nicole Reyes, is eight months pregnant and she has a one-year-old son. Her mom, husband and brother are still on the island. 

“There are a lot of people leaving the island because resources are running out. There’s no gasoline. There’s no diesel. The hospitals are closing," said Reyes, in Spanish. "A lot of people lost their things, their homes. So, we have to look for better for ourselves.”

Reyes hopes her husband can join her next week, but she's worried about her family that remains. Reyes said there's no communication is Coamo and people don't know where to get essentials. When she left Puerto Rico, she said she felt it wasn't Puerto Rico anymore. 

“It was destroyed. It wasn’t Puerto Rico. It was destroyed," Reyes said. "All the trees were fallen, and the highway. There was no food.”

Reyes said it seems the government is paying more attention to metropolitan areas like San Juan, while places like Coamo are being overlooked. 

Rivera's mother-in-law Ana Gonzalez also came from Coamo. She said when she was on the plane to Florida, it was the first time in weeks that she was able to feel at peace. 

"Because in Puerto Rico, you have to wait four hours to get diesel for the generator, you have to stand on a three hour line to try to get $100 from the bank and it might not be enough to use at the supermarket," said Gonzalez, in Spanish. "You worry when you have family there, but thank God we're here to get what we need."

Gonzales said she feels the government is assisting the island the best it can for the conditions. 

Reyes and Gonzales don't know when they'll go back to Puerto Rico, because they say right now there's nothing to go back to. 

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Quincy Walters is a reporter and backup host for WGCU.