Nearly 70,000 Puerto Ricans relocated to Florida after Hurricane Maria

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TAMPA, Fla. - Anxious relatives stand around switching between staring at their phones and the shuttle drop off at Tampa International Airport.

Some have watery eyes out of nervousness and anticipation.

The tears streamed once they embraced their loved ones arriving from Puerto Rico.

This scene plays out at least once a day after a flight from San Juan lands in Tampa.

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“I don't have to worry no more,” said Ana Medrano, who welcomed her daughter and granddaughter.

Anxious arrivals

Medrano was desperate to bring her relatives to Tampa Bay.

Communication is difficult, and news from the island wasn't getting better.

“They couldn't find water or food. She lost her job.” she said about her daughter.

Meanwhile, Ana Camacho waited her turn to finally see her daughter and grandson.

For her, phone calls weren't enough.

Vivian García, was already thinking about moving to Spring Hills to be closer to Camacho, her mother.

Hurricane Maria answered that thought for her.

A month without power was too much for Garcia and her 1-year-old son.

She had to fan him with a plastic plate.

“I'm going to miss Puerto Rico a lot," she said. "I love everything about Puerto Rico but right now it's not good there. I think this is the best decision for us."

Influx of evacuees 

Nearly 70,000 people have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria, according to state officials. 

Hillsborough county schools have enrolled at least 50 students from Puerto Rico. And local agencies are getting calls every day with questions about affordable housing and jobs.

“I'm hoping I will find a job quickly,” García said with a sigh.

Her husband will also need a job when he arrives, but they don't know when he will reunite with them.

“We're a team and after this we're more united than before so it's going to be hard," she said. "It's going to be really hard but we’re going to make it. After everything we still feel blessed.”

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Those seeking information on assistance for Puerto Ricans following Hurricane María can call the State of Florida information line at 1-800-342-3557 or visit the Disaster Recovery Center at The Regent, 6437 Watson Rd., Riverview. The center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Appointments are not necessary.

More than a dozen agencies are providing resources at the center, including:

  • Federal Emergency Management Administration
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
  • Florida Department of Children and Families
  • Florida Department of Health
  • Hillsborough County Aging Services
  • Hillsborough County Affordable Housing Services
  • Hillsborough County Health Care Services
  • Hillsborough County Homeless Services
  • Hillsborough County Social Services
  • American Red Cross
  • Career Source Tampa Bay
  • Central Florida Behavioral Health Network
  • Senior Connection from Area Agency on Aging