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Puerto Ricans Leave for US Mainland After Storm

2017-10-13

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[00:00.00]
  • Lourdes Rodriguez left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria filled her home in the town of Vega Baja with mud.
  • [00:10.97]
  • The mud damaged mattresses and other things in the house.
  • [00:16.45]
  • She thought she would stay with her daughter in Florida for a short time.
  • [00:21.71]
  • But three weeks later, there is still no electricity or water back home.
  • [00:28.66]
  • The 59-year-old retiree said in an interview at her daughter’s home in Tampa that she does not plan to return soon.
  • [00:40.88]
  • “It’s been crazy, totally unexpected, like nothing I’ve experienced before,” she said.
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  • In Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, Efrain Diaz Figueroa listened to a battery-powered radio while he sat in his destroyed home.
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  • Its walls have collapsed and his clothes and mattresses are wet from the rain.
  • [01:08.18]
  • His sister was coming to take the 70-year-old to Boston with her family.
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  • “I’ll live better there,” Figueroa said.
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  • Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans left for the U.S. mainland to escape the aftermath of the storm.
  • [01:29.36]
  • Things are still bad on the island — about 85 percent of residents still do not have electricity and 40 percent do not have running water.
  • [01:43.06]
  • It will take months to restore them, so many Puerto Ricans are trying to rebuild their lives away from the island.
  • [01:52.86]
  • People are living with relatives in states with large Puerto Rican populations, such as New York, Illinois, Florida and Connecticut.
  • [02:05.23]
  • They are searching for jobs, schools for their children and housing.
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  • “I am in limbo right now,” said Betzaida Ferrer.
  • [02:17.09]
  • She is a 74-year-old retiree who moved from Miami to Puerto Rico in July.
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  • Now she is back in Miami and living with friends.
  • [02:29.74]
  • She is trying to find a job that will pay for her $1,300 monthly rent. That is double what she paid in Puerto Rico.
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  • “To be in a situation like this where you need help is horrible,” Ferrer said.
  • [02:48.23]
  • Now, she is taking a three-hour a day job training program.
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  • Over the years many Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland U.S.
  • [03:00.13]
  • Since 2007, the island’s population decreased by about 10 percent because of a shrinking economy that continues to make life difficult.
  • [03:12.42]
  • Then, Hurricane Maria struck on September 20 killing at least 45 people, according to the Puerto Rican government.
  • [03:23.04]
  • That has caused even more people to leave.
  • [03:26.58]
  • Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at Florida International University, has studied migration from the island.
  • [03:38.50]
  • He said many people may not come back.
  • [03:42.06]
  • Many of those who left are elderly or sick people.
  • [03:47.80]
  • They fled, or were forced to leave, because of the danger of being without electricity or air conditioning in a hot climate.
  • [04:00.35]
  • The trip has been tiring for people like Madeline Maldonado.
  • [04:07.33]
  • She stayed in a hotel in New York with her two granddaughters, ages 9 and 13, before going to a friend’s house in Washington.
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  • “I need to get back to my homeland,” she said, although it is not clear when that may be possible.
  • [04:28.08]
  • Puerto Ricans are used to bad weather and other difficulties.
  • [04:33.72]
  • But the storm’s damage has been too much for some residents.
  • [04:38.29]
  • Carmelo Rivera is a 78-year-old from the central town of Caguas.
  • [04:45.92]
  • She is staying with relatives in Long Island, New York.
  • [04:51.15]
  • Rivera compared the storm to Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane George in 1998.
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  • “Nothing has been as hard as Maria,” he said.
  • [05:06.12]
  • No one knows how many Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland U.S., but officials in Florida say 20,000 have arrived in their state since October 3.
  • [05:22.88]
  • Florida already had nearly one million Puerto Rican residents before the storm.
  • [05:31.29]
  • New York had over one million.
  • [05:33.86]
  • Government agencies are trying to help the Puerto Ricans deal with the situation.
  • [05:41.41]
  • Law schools, including Florida A&M and the University of Connecticut, have agreed to accept students from Puerto Rico.
  • [05:52.93]
  • Miami-Dade County Public Schools have offered to partly use the curriculum and change bus routes to help newly arrived children.
  • [06:05.32]
  • Florida Governor Rick Scott has said teachers from Puerto Rico will not have to pay for certificates to work in the state.
  • [06:16.24]
  • He also eased financial requirements for some professional jobs, such as real estate agents and barbers.
  • [06:26.33]
  • Lourdes Rodriguez said her family may need to sell their house in Puerto Rico to get enough money to create a new life in the United States.
  • [06:38.47]
  • They do not want to, but now she, her husband, a daughter and two grandchildren are living in a small two-bedroom rented apartment.
  • [06:52.14]
  • Rodriguez said her family had considered moving to the mainland U.S. before.
  • [06:58.63]
  • But they never imagined it would be because of such a difficult situation.
  • [07:05.98]
  • I’m Susan Shand.
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