ORLANDO, Fla. - One year ago, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, leaving devastation and chaos on the island.
The power grid was gone, families were lined up for help and questions were not answered.
Generators powered hospitals as doctors fought illnesses related to unsanitary conditions. Trees were down, and buildings were blown wide open.
About 135,000 Puerto Rican residents evacuated the island to the U.S. mainland. Many of them call Central Florida home.
Channel 9 reporter Q McCray talked to two evacuees who shared stories of hard work and perseverance, despite the odds Hurricane Maria stacked against them.
Dinarys Toledo’s story is one of survival and perseverance. She was warned by her college that if she left for the U.S. she would forfeit her credits and no longer be able to graduate.
Toledo had a tough choice to make.
"The trees were all over the houses and all on the cars. The sand was 3 feet high," Toledo said.
“It destroyed your entire neighborhood?" asked McCray.
“Yes," she said.
Toledo lost her possessions in the storm, but she continued her education.
“I wanted to finish my doctorate degree, so, I studied with the candles,” Toledo said. “No power. No water. It was very hard.”
It took a few extra months, but she succeeded, and with her degree in hand, she moved to Central Florida in May.
She now works for the Puerto Rico Family Response Center, where she helps hurricane evacuees get back on their feet.
"For other people, it is very hard. They lost all their property, their family," she said.
Toledo said she’s thankful to have come this far.
"I am very happy. Florida is a great state," she said.
Toledo's brothers and mother also live in Central Florida.
Ricardo Lockwood's story begins with tragic memories and ends with success, but not without overcoming big bumps along the way.
"I was moving to my brother's because it was imminent the attack of Hurricane Maria," he said.
The storm devastated the island. Lockwood remembers returning to his property with his neighbor five days later.
"We cried together. We lost everything. Our houses were destroyed," he said.
The successful businessman was forced to leave his daughters behind.
"I had no choice. No choice. I have daughters. I have a family to feed," Lockwood said.
He moved to Central Florida.
"We are resilient people. We are fighters. I landed a good job here in Florida. I'm a supply manager for a driving company," he said.
Lockwood sends resources to his daughters in Puerto Rico, thanks to the opportunity given to him in Florida.
Lockwood said he visits his favorite Puerto Rican bakery on Lake Underhill for a taste of home.
"I miss it. It's my island. I miss the beach, but we are one hour away from Cocoa. One hour away from Tampa, so, it's OK," he said.
The Heart of Florida United Way is expanding the Hurricane Maria Housing Assistance Program. It will include assistance for basic furniture and household needs for people who already have housing.
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