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Puerto Ricans Leave for US Mainland After Storm


Efrain Diaz Figueroa, right, walks by his sister's home destroyed in the passing of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Lourdes Rodriguez left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria filled her home in the town of Vega Baja with mud.

The mud damaged mattresses and other things in the house.

She thought she would stay with her daughter in Florida for a short time. But three weeks later, there is still no electricity or water back home.

The 59-year-old retiree said in an interview at her daughter’s home in Tampa that she does not plan to return soon.

“It’s been crazy, totally unexpected, like nothing I’ve experienced before,” she said.

In Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, Efrain Diaz Figueroa listened to a battery-powered radio while he sat in his destroyed home. Its walls have collapsed and his clothes and mattresses are wet from the rain. His sister was coming to take the 70-year-old to Boston with her family. “I’ll live better there,” Figueroa said.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans left for the U.S. mainland to escape the aftermath of the storm. 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.

It will take months to restore them, so many Puerto Ricans are trying to rebuild their lives away from the island.

People are living with relatives in states with large Puerto Rican populations, such as New York, Illinois, Florida and Connecticut. They are searching for jobs, schools for their children and housing.

“I am in limbo right now,” said Betzaida Ferrer. She is a 74-year-old retiree who moved from Miami to Puerto Rico in July. Now she is back in Miami and living with friends. 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.

“To be in a situation like this where you need help is horrible,” Ferrer said. Now, she is taking a three-hour a day job training program. Over the years many Puerto Ricans have moved to the mainland U.S.

Since 2007, the island’s population decreased by about 10 percent because of a shrinking economy that continues to make life difficult.

Then, Hurricane Maria struck on September 20 killing at least 45 people, according to the Puerto Rican government. That has caused even more people to leave.

Jorge Duany, a professor of anthropology at Florida International University, has studied migration from the island. He said many people may not come back.

Many of those who left are elderly or sick people. They fled, or were forced to leave, because of the danger of being without electricity or air conditioning in a hot climate.

The trip has been tiring for people like Madeline Maldonado. 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.

“I need to get back to my homeland,” she said, although it is not clear when that may be possible.

Puerto Ricans are used to bad weather and other difficulties. But the storm’s damage has been too much for some residents.

Carmelo Rivera is a 78-year-old from the central town of Caguas. She is staying with relatives in Long Island, New York. Rivera compared the storm to Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane George in 1998. “Nothing has been as hard as Maria,” he said.

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.

Florida already had nearly one million Puerto Rican residents before the storm. New York had over one million.

Government agencies are trying to help the Puerto Ricans deal with the situation.

Law schools, including Florida A&M and the University of Connecticut, have agreed to accept students from Puerto Rico. Miami-Dade County Public Schools have offered to partly use the curriculum and change bus routes to help newly arrived children.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has said teachers from Puerto Rico will not have to pay for certificates to work in the state. He also eased financial requirements for some professional jobs, such as real estate agents and barbers.

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. They do not want to, but now she, her husband, a daughter and two grandchildren are living in a small two-bedroom rented apartment.

Rodriguez said her family had considered moving to the mainland U.S. before. But they never imagined it would be because of such a difficult situation.

I’m Susan Shand.

Susan Shand adapted this story for Learning English based on an Associated Press story. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

Mainland - n. area of land that forms a country or a continent and that does not include islands

Mud - n. soft, wet dirt

Mattress - n. a cloth case that is filled with material that is slept upon.

Aftermath - n. the period of time after a bad and usually destructive event

Limbo - n. in an uncertain or undecided state or condition

Anthropology - n. the study of human races, origins, societies, and cultures

Migration - n. to move from one country or place to live or work in another

Curriculum - n. the courses that are taught by a school

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