Disaster relief center for Puerto Rico evacuees opens at Orlando airport

'It's hard because I didn't want to leave,' evacuee says

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor, Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - A disaster relief center for people fleeing Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island opened Tuesday at Orlando International Airport.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that centers designed to pair evacuees with necessary resources to ensure a smooth transition into the state have also opened at Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami.

"These Disaster Relief Centers will help Puerto Ricans coming into Florida get matched with all the available state resources they may need and ensure that as families come into Florida, they are given the tools they need to work and provide their children with a great education," Scott said in a news release.

Representatives from Lynx, Orange County Public Schools, the Department of Children and Families, the City of Orlando and more were at OIA on Tuesday ready to welcome Puerto Rican evacuees.

Orlando's Hispanic Office of Local Assistance coordinator Ana Cruz said officials expect 100,000 Puerto Ricans to come to the Sunshine State until the island recovers from the storm.

"I know what they're going through. That's why we're here -- to help, to assist and to guide," Cruz said.

A plane from Puerto Rico landed at OIA at 11:47 a.m. Tuesday. On that plane were Anabel Ruiz-Marquez's parents, who are both in their 80s. They'll be staying with their daughter in the Waterford Lakes area until conditions improve in their hometown.

"Daddy doesn't want to stay here forever, you know? He came because of what transpired at home and I'm not going to force him to stay," Ruiz-Marquez said. "I promised him as soon as everything goes back to normal I'll fly them back."

Also at OIA on Tuesday was Yara Ramos, a mother of four who has decided to permanently relocate to Florida. She'll be staying with her brother in Clermont, who urged her to move here.

She flew to Florida Monday night and returned to the airport on Tuesday to welcome her mother who had just landed from Puerto Rico.

"I looked at my kids and I looked at the situation and I was living day-by-day. It's hard," Ramos said, breaking down in tears. "It's hard because I didn't want to leave. It's hard, but I have four kids that need mom to be good to work. We need energy, we need light."

How to help Puerto Rico
- Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida has been designated as an official collection point for non-perishable food donations. Food donations are being accepted Monday through Friday through the month of October at the food bank's locations in Orlando, Brevard County and Volusia County. Monetary donations can be made here.
-Several GoFundMe accounts have been established for Hurricane Maria victims. Click here to see them.
-The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications for volunteers to go on the ground in Puerto Rico. Click here to find out how to register.
-American Red Cross has numerous locations across the country where donations can be dropped off. Find a list of them here.

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