Orlando disaster relief center helping hundreds of Puerto Rico evacuees per day

People get off the plane and head to center for immediate assistance

By Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - The disaster relief center at Orlando International Airport has helped more than 4,000 Puerto Ricans seeking refuge after Hurricane Maria in the 10 days since opening, and officials say the lines will continue to grow.

Puerto Rico resident Valeria Velazaquez was standing in one of those lines Friday, back for the second day after the representatives at Veteran's Affairs booth called her back saying they have help for her.
 
Her father is a member of the National Guard and had to stay behind in Puerto Rico while the rest of the family escaped to Central Florida. 
 
"It was very hard for my mom," Velazquez said as her mom stood next to her in tears. "It's not easy because, obviously, part of my heart is in Puerto Rico with my dad."
 
Velazquez told News 6 her story as she held a piece of paper with information on how to obtain a Florida ID and Driver's License. The Florida Department of Motor Vehicles is one of many new agencies that have helped expand the center as more people pour in. 
 
"We have been helping 700-800 people a day," said Peter Sessum, of FEMA.
 
The federal agency is helping the families starting as soon as they get off the plane to sign up for benefits and payouts to help with their immediate needs here, while also helping to rebuild their homes back on the island.
 
Orlando's Hispanic Office of Local Assistance, also known as HOLA, is assisting the families transitioning to Central Florida. Their office has been at the Disaster Relief Center since it opened on Oct. 3.

"The numbers, I mean, we have sat down at our table with 275 individual families, and that's amazing," Ana Cruz, of HOLA, said.
 
Cruz said the state is expecting up to 100,000 Puerto Ricans to move here permanently after Hurricane Maria. Several she's met said they want to go back to the island.
 
"They don't want to give their drivers license from Puerto Rico, that means they want to go back," Cruz added. "I think that's great. They are positive that things are going to go back to normal soon and I'm hoping for that, too."
 
The Disaster Relief Center is open at Orlando International Airport Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The center is closed Sunday.

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