Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, 23,000 of the island’s residents have fled, flying into Orlando.
According to Orlando International Airport, ticket sales show that at least another 70,000 are waiting for a flight.
Julio Figueroa, his pregnant wife and their child were among those who left Puerto Rico, but not before spending 25 days without the basic necessities.
In that time, the only aid his family received was four bottles of water and a small box of vegetables, Figueroa said.
“It was just too tough,” he said. “The government, the bureaucracy, they made it so that they almost, basically, forced us out.”
[ Photos: Hurricane Maria slams Caribbean ]
While the number of Puerto Rican evacuees is far below the 300,000 relief workers were expecting to come to Florida after the storm, 23,000 – potentially more than 100,000 – is still more than the populations of many Central Florida cities.
Figueroa said many people he knew were just waiting for a flight off the island.
“There were no flights available,” he said. “So, I know a lot of people who have flights for November that are coming here.”
For now, Figueroa and his family were simply happy to have a place to go, because he doesn’t see returning to Puerto Rico as a possibility in the foreseeable future.
“(Puerto Rico) is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful island,” he said. “However, if things go well here, well, then I guess we’ll be staying here then. Florida’s not so bad.”
Figueroa was grateful for the outreach he and his family have experienced since they’ve been in Florida.
“(They) say, ‘Hey, come over here. We have light. We have water. We have food. We will help you out,’” he said. “And it’s nice to know that there are good people in this world.”
Cox Media Group