Puerto Rico crisis

Displaced Puerto Ricans Face Obstacles Getting Health Care

Nov 21, 2017

The federal government has granted people affected by the devastating hurricanes that wracked coastal states and Puerto Rico 15 extra days to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

But Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland after the destruction face problems well beyond timing.

Yerianne Roldán wants to be a graphic designer, or maybe a writer, or maybe both. Her good friend and classmate, Zuleyka Avila, has already made up her mind. She's going to be a pediatrician.

Those plans hit a bump in the road this fall, though, when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, where both girls lived with their families. Forced to leave the island — much of which is still without power — they've both relocated to Orlando.

These days, Puerto Rico's monumental power restoration effort involves helicopters dropping 100-foot towers into the mountains and a "big dance" of crews, equipment and expertise from several agencies and companies. But progress has been slow and that dance has been a complicated and tedious one on the island, which is experiencing the largest outage in U.S. history.

And sometimes it's one light forward, two lights back.

It's a muggy early afternoon in Morovis, a mountain community about 40 miles from San Juan. Army Reserve soldiers led by Captain Angel Morales are hard at work handing out cases of water and ready-to-eat meals from a flatbed truck. Hundreds of people line up in the parking lot of the Jaime Collazo High School.

Man and woman standing together
Caitie Switalski / WLRN

Saturday may have been rainy, but that didn’t stop a small private plane from getting eight very sick people out of Puerto Rico and into Ft. Lauderdale to receive the indispensable medical treatment they can't receive on the island at the moment. 

After Hurricane Maria devastated the island, South Florida resident and Puerto Rican native Debbie Sosa started making calls to help those she didn’t think could wait until mid-December, when the government in Puerto Rico estimates power will be restored. 

 

Just seven months ago, Puerto Rican chef Jose Sanchez opened the restaurant of his dreams: a place where you could feel like you were in Italy one day, and like you were in France the next.

He served up fusion cuisine and called it Pera Maraya. There was deconstructed ratatouille, caprese salad with octopus. The restaurant in Carolina, east of San Juan, was getting rave reviews: five stars on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook. He spent nearly a decade saving up to open this restaurant, and was overjoyed at how quickly it found success.

José A. Iglesias / El Nuevo Herald

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo joins us for a conversation about Puerto Rico, DACA, and the Las Vegas mass shooting - and the need for "sensible gun policy."

Then we hear from Marine Col. Michael Samarov about recovery efforts in Dominica and the Leeward Islands.

Peter Haden / WLRN

Around 4,000 hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands arrived at Port Everglades Tuesday aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Anxious South Floridians reunited with family members fleeing the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

  

Gloria Fredericks came from Saint Croix to stay with her two daughters in Pembroke Pines. Her home -- and neighborhood -- were destroyed by the storm.

Pedro Portal/The Miami Herald

Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria have already arrived at Florida’s public schools.

Broward County schools took in 128 hurricane refugees last week, mainly from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Miami-Dade district enrolled 31 from Puerto Rico, in addition to the 16 students from the Keys and two from Texas the district got after Irma and Harvey.

School leaders are preparing for what could be a much bigger influx.

AP

UPDATE: President Trump visited Puerto Rico on Tuesday and possibly heightened rather than diffused tensions between him and the U.S. island territory. He quipped that Puerto Rico's hurricane disaster had "thrown our budget a little out of whack. We've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico." Then he suggested the storm had not been a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He also lauded Puerto Rico for its low hurricane death toll compared to Katrina.

Miami Herald

On the very first edition of WLRN's new daily program Sundial, host Luis Hernandez talks to people around South Florida, including:

1. WLRN's America's reporter Tim Padgett tells Luis why half the U.S. diplomats in Cuba and their families are returning home. A number of U.S. State Department employees have experienced mysterious health problems since being stationed there.

Eight-year-old Yan Anthony Hernandez has deep dimples on each side of his smile. Somehow, he managed to sleep through the hurricane that roared over his home in Isabela, Puerto Rico. Unlike those living in wooden houses, his cement home held up.

But now, there's no electricity or cellphone service, and his school is closed. Instead of spending his free time on his Playstation or watching YouTube videos as he usually does, he's a little bored.

A laborer named Angel Ramos used to gather mangos and avocados that grew wild in the hills above the city of Cayey, in Puerto Rico's east. The woods were verdant, they smelled of fecundity — and made him feel part of creation.

Then the hurricane came.

"I climbed up to see what the mountain looks like. Oh, the sadness," Ramos says. "I see the uprooted trees. The naked limbs. It makes you want to cry when you to see it. How it's destroyed. It is torturous to look at."

Courtesy Robert Asencio

Puerto Rico’s hurricane crisis is a reminder that Puerto Ricans are South Florida’s fastest growing population. Puerto Rican state legislator Robert Asencio has just visited the island - and says the disaster may well mean an even bigger Puerto Rican community here.

Updated at 10:10 p.m. ET

Millions of people in Puerto Rico need fuel, water, food and medicine. More than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, major infrastructure is still down. Stores have trouble filling their shelves. Families are running low on the supplies they stockpiled before the storm, and across the island, many residents say they haven't seen any aid deliveries.

Meanwhile, at the port in San Juan, row after row of refrigerated shipping containers sit humming. They've been there for days, goods locked away inside.

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