Puerto Ri­cans leave for US main­land as storm woes linger

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION - Their A7

MI­AMI (AP) — Lour­des Ro­driguez fled Puerto Rico after Hur­ri­cane Maria filled her home in the north­ern town of Vega Baja with mud, ru­in­ing mat­tresses and other be­long­ings. She thought it would be a short stay with her daugh­ter in Florida, but three weeks later there’s still no power or wa­ter back home.

“We’re going to be here in­def­i­nitely,” the 59-year-old re­tiree said in an in­ter­view at the daugh­ter’s home in Tampa. “It’s been crazy, to­tally un­ex­pected, like noth­ing I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.”

In San Juan, Efrain Diaz Figueroa, 70, sat lis­ten­ing to a bat­tery-pow­ered ra­dio amid the wreck­age of his home, its walls collapsed into the yard and clothes and mat­tresses soak­ing in the rain. A sis­ter was com­ing to take him to fam­ily in Bos­ton: “I’ll live bet­ter there,” Figueroa said.

Tens of thou­sands of is­landers left for the U.S. main­land to es­cape the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the storm. With con­di­tions back home still grim — about 85 per­cent of res­i­dents still lack elec­tric­ity and 40 per­cent are with­out run­ning wa­ter, and nei­ther is ex­pected to be fully re­stored for months — many find them­selves scram­bling to build new lives away from the is­land.

Par­tic­u­larly in states with large Puerto Ri­can pop­u­la­tions, such as New York, Illi­nois, Florida and Con­necti­cut, peo­ple are bunk­ing with rel­a­tives while try­ing to find longer-term hous­ing, jobs and schools for their kids.

“I am in limbo right now,” said Bet­zaida Fer­rer, a 74-year-old re­tiree who moved from Mi­ami to Puerto Rico in July and now finds her­self back three months later, only this time with­out a place of her own. She is try­ing to find a job that will let her af­ford $1,300 in monthly rent, more than dou­ble what she was to pay back home.

“To be in a sit­u­a­tion like this where you need help is hor­ri­ble,” said Fer­rer, who is stay­ing with friends and tak­ing a three-hour a day job train­ing pro­gram.

There have been sev­eral ma­jor mi­gra­tory ex­o­duses from Puerto Rico to the main­land over the years, most re­cently dur­ing the past decade when the is­land’s pop­u­la­tion shrank by about 10 per­cent be­cause of a long eco­nomic slide that shows no sign of eas­ing any­time soon.

Hur­ri­cane Maria struck Sept. 20 and, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures from the is­land gov­ern­ment, killed at least 45 peo­ple. It also cre­ated a new surge that could have last­ing de­mo­graphic ef­fects on Puerto Rico and on the main­land.

“I think that we could ex­pect that peo­ple who did not plan to stay per­ma­nently might do so now,” said Jorge Duany, a pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity who has long stud­ied mi­gra­tion from the is­land.

Many of those who left are el­derly or sick peo­ple who fled or were evac­u­ated be­cause of the dan­gers posed by liv­ing on a trop­i­cal is­land with no power or air con­di­tion­ing and lim­ited wa­ter for an in­def­i­nite pe­riod of time.

The ex­o­dus has been ex­haust­ing for peo­ple like Made­line Mal­don­ado, who stayed in a ho­tel in New York car­ing for two grand­daugh­ters be­fore going to a friend*s house in Washington.

“I need to get back to my home­land,” she said at the ho­tel with the two girls, ages 9 and 13, though it’s not clear when that may be pos­si­ble.

While Puerto Ri­cans have grown ac­cus­tomed to se­vere weather and hard­ship, the ex­tent of this storm’s dev­as­ta­tion has been more than many could bear.


In this Sept. 26 file photo, Evan Mandino (right), sits with neigh­bors on a couch out­side de­stroyed homes in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. AP HER­BERT

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