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Puerto Ricans still stranded in hotels

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photo, Jesenia Flores holds her son Jose, both of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, as they wait to enter her mother-in-law's hotel room, in Dedham, Mass. Nearly six months after Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans are still staying in hotels. It's frustrating "to be cooped up here without knowing what will happen to us," the 19-year-old mother said. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta walks down the corridor of the Boquemar hotel where she has taken refuge for months, after Hurricane Maria ripped the corrugated metal roof of her residence, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta stands in the hotel room she shares with her 44-year-old son, months after Hurricane Maria ripped the corrugated metal roof of her residence, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. So far, FEMA has provided $113 million in rental assistance to 129,000 people who were in Maria's path in Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta is reflected in a mirror in the hotel room she shares with her 44-year-old son, months after Hurricane Maria ripped the corrugated metal roof of her residence, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Acosta longs to go home from the hotel where she's been living in Puerto Rico with 40 families displaced by the storm. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, a framed image of Jesus Christ is propped against a cardboard box used to hold bread and Styrofoam plates, in a hotel room 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta shares with her 44-year-old son, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. For the most part, evacuees try to make themselves at home. At several hotels, they share meals and keep each other company. Some like Acosta have added personal touches. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • This Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo shows cans of food stored inside the closet of a hotel room at the Boquemar hotel in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, where 53-year-old retiree Fernando Muniz of San Juan is living after Hurricane Maria damaged his home nearly six months ago. About 800 families are still living in hotels across Puerto Rico, and roughly 40 of them are staying at Boquemar hotel, located in the popular tourist spot of Boqueron, which they will have to leave from next March 20. (AP... Carlos Giusti

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 53-year-old retiree Fernando Muniz looks out from his hotel room, where he has taken refuge for months after Hurricane Maria caused damage to his San Juan residence, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • This Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo shows the view from the hotel room where 53-year-old retiree Fernando Muniz has taken refuge, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Nearly six months after the storm, almost 10,000 Puerto Ricans scattered across 37 states and the island still receive temporary housing assistance from the FEMA. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, photo, Maria Reyes, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, watches her grandson Edward, in their hotel room, in Dedham, Mass. AP photo

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photo, Maria Reyes, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, babysits six-year-old Junielis, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, at a hotel, in Dedham, Mass. Several Massachusetts groups helped Reyes when her FEMA hotel assistance ended after two months. She was able to move from one hotel near Boston to another while caring for her 7-year-old grandson. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 55-year-old retiree Ivan Ferreira sits on the edge of his bed in a hotel room with his dog Ovito, where he has taken refuge for months after Hurricane Maria damaged his home, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Ferreira said he's grateful for the lodging but points out that he could have fixed part of his house for what FEMA has paid for the room. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 55-year-old retiree Ivan Ferreira walks his dog Ovito along the coast adjacent to the Boquemar hotel, where he has taken refuge for months after Hurricane Maria blew away his roof, damaged his walls and destroyed his belongings, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photo, 15-year-old Alanis Rodriguez, of Canovanos, Puerto Rico, left, and 14-year-old Bethel Sanchez, of Isabela, Puerto Rico, spend time together in the hotel lobby, in Dedham, Mass. For the most part, Hurricane Maria evacuees living in hotels try to make themselves at home. At several hotels, they share meals and keep each other company. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, photo, Jesenia Flores, 19, holds her son Jose, both of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, while watching her mother-in-law Luisa Mercedes, center left, play dominos with Ivan Lopez, 14, second from right, Eric Lanzo, 13, right, and Carlos Delgado, 17, bottom left, all of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, at a hotel, in Dedham, Mass. AP Photo

  • In this Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 photo, Jesenia Flores, 19, holds her son Jose, both of Aibonito, Puerto Rico, as she steps out of her hotel room, in Dedham, Mass. The hotel initially offered a welcome break from the chaos after the storm. But now it's become tedious. "The only entertainment I have is my son," she said. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • In this Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta stands inside her home, which lost its corrugated metal roof during the passage of Hurricane Maria, so she had to take refuge for months at the Boquemar hotel, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. She received $4,000 from the federal government to repair her nearby house, but the work has been slow because it includes removing black mold that quickly spread in the tropical heat. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti

  • This Monday, Feb. 26, 2018 photo, shows an image of Jesus Christ framed between towels hanging on an indoor clothesline inside the hurricane-damaged home of 69-year-old retiree Carmen Acosta, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Almost 10,000 Puerto Ricans scattered across 37 states and the island are receiving housing money from FEMA. That help is scheduled to end March 20. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) Carlos Giusti



Associated Press
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

DEDHAM, Mass. — From the lobby of a hotel on the outskirts of Boston, Jesenia Flores fills out an online job application, hoping to find work that will get her small family back to normal for the first time since Hurricane Maria flooded their home in Puerto Rico.

The hotel along the interstate has been a refuge for her and other Puerto Rican families, but it’s frustrating “to be cooped up here without knowing what will happen to us,” the 19-year-old mother said as her 15-month-old son squirmed and cried in her lap.

Danaliz Pujol is staying in a hotel, too, near Orlando, Florida. She and her husband are trying to find an affordable apartment to replace the one in Puerto Rico that was damaged in the storm and then rented to someone else after they fled to the mainland. She looks every day, “but there’s nothing,” she said.

And then there is Carmen Acosta, who longs to go home from the hotel where she has been living in Puerto Rico with 40 families displaced by the storm. She received $4,000 from the federal government to repair her nearby house, but the work has been slow because it includes removing black mold that quickly spread in the tropical heat.

Nearly six months after the storm, almost 10,000 Puerto Ricans scattered across 37 states and the U.S. territory still receive temporary housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That help has been renewed repeatedly, but it’s now scheduled to end for everyone March 20. Without financial support, they will have nowhere to go, many storm victims say.

“I could end up on the street just as I’m trying to get back on my feet,” said Pujol, 23, who earns money by cleaning hotel rooms. Her husband is disabled and cannot work.

Dozens of Puerto Ricans interviewed by The Associated Press expressed similar fears as the deadline loomed. Many are poor, living on fixed incomes or getting by in low-wage jobs.

They have no relatives who can help or savings to fall back on, and they did not own their homes.

Some like Flores struggle to find work because they don’t speak English well. Others have children with special medical or educational needs.

“To start all over again is really hard,” said Ivette Ramirez, whose home in the Puerto Rican city of Bayamon was flooded by the worst storm to strike the island in decades. The restaurant where she and her husband worked was destroyed. She is now staying in a hotel in Dedham, Massachusetts, with aid from FEMA.

So far, FEMA has provided $113 million in rental assistance to 129,000 people who were in Maria’s path across the island. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has asked for the deadline to be extended to May 14, and the government says it is reviewing the request.

Nonprofit groups, churches and state and local governments have also provided temporary housing help and other forms of support to the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland in the aftermath of the Sept. 20 storm.

Several Massachusetts groups helped Maria Reyes when her FEMA hotel assistance ended after two months. She was able to move from one hotel near Boston to another while caring for her 7-year-old grandson.

Her former home in San Juan public housing has been deemed habitable, but she wants to stay on the mainland to get better medical care. She doesn’t know how long she will be able to stay in this hotel, or where she will go next.

“I can’t live like this with a little kid,” the 55-year-old said. “I need more time. I need God to hear me.”

Noe Casiano came to Florida with his wife and three children, including one born with severe birth defects a day before the storm swept across the island and flooded their apartment in a public housing complex near San Juan.

Their FEMA benefits ended when their home was approved for habitation, but their newborn was getting emergency treatment in St. Petersburg. For a week, they slept all together in the hospital, but they have since moved to a nearby shelter. They still don’t want to go back to Puerto Rico, where the family believes their daughter won’t get the treatment she needs because medical specialists are scarce on the island following a 10-year economic crisis.

“I have nothing in Puerto Rico. It would be like going to an empty shoebox,” the 29-year-old father said, his voice breaking.

For the most part, evacuees try to make themselves at home. At several hotels, they share meals and keep each other company. Some have added personal touches, like a portrait of Jesus that Acosta leans against a cardboard box at the hotel in Boqueron in southwestern Puerto Rico.

Ivan Ferreira, a 55-year-old retiree at the same hotel, said he’s grateful for the lodging but points out that he could have fixed part of his house for what FEMA has paid for the room.

Back in the Boston area, Flores’ hotel initially offered a welcome break from the chaos after the storm. But now it’s become tedious.

“The only entertainment I have is my son,” she said.

Her husband managed to find work as a cook but she has had no luck. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t have a car and her hours will have to be limited because she has to care for her baby.

“I’ve applied for everything I see, but I don’t hear anything,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens reported this story in Dedham, Massachusetts, AP writer Gisela Salomon reported in Miami and AP writer Danica Coto reported in Boqueron and San Juan, Puerto Rico.