Central Florida’s Puerto Rican population continues to grow 4 years after Hurricane Maria

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s been four years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017, as a strong Category 4 storm.

Since then, the Latino population in Central Florida has grown as people left the island during the recovery process. And for some of those, the four-year mark is bringing back anxiety and traumatic memories.

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University of Central Florida professor Fernando Rivera said the latest census numbers show that there has been huge growth of Puerto Ricans in Central Florida.

“People continue to come to Central Florida and contribute to the community in a very positive way,” Rivera said.

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Rivera said many Puerto Ricans have started businesses and taken on political positions in Central Florida.

Watch the full interview below:

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For Dachiramari Vila, the four-year mark for Maria reignites memories of sheltering from the storm in the bathroom of her parent’s house in Puerto Rico, only to make her way home afterward to see the damage.

“When I see my house … I only cry,” she said.

Moving to Florida shortly after, each new hurricane that develops nearby can be a reminder of the trauma, and in some cases, but not all, trigger post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Psychologist Deborah Beidel, with her team at UCF Restores, has worked with many people experiencing PTSD, including Pulse survivors, workers at the Surfside condo collapse, and survivors of Hurricane Maria now in Central Florida. As the next storm looms, she offers advice to minimize anxiety.

“I think that just being prepared and know these things are going to cause us some anxiety when they happen again and that’s OK,” she said.

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Crossing off items on a storm preparedness checklist, like getting food and water supplies, pre-packing to-go bags, and gassing up the car can give you a sense of control to minimize anxiety. But also taking breaks for listening to music, reading a book, or doing things around the house.

People who need to speak to a mental health professional and want to reach out to UCF Restores can call 407-823-3910.

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Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.