Families leave Puerto Rico to find new homes after Hurricane Maria

For Jesenia Rodriguez and her 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, the deadly force of Hurricane Maria was traumatic enough.

The Sept. 20 hurricane was the worst natural disaster that anyone in Puerto Rico could remember, killing at least 64 people and wiping out power to the entire island.

Rodriguez lost her house and everything in it. But it was the devastation after the storm that was so unbearable for the 29-year-old native of San Juan.

With no water or electricity – and whole days with no food for the kids – people became predators, robbing each other for gasoline and fighting each other for food.

“We were only allowed outside until 6 p.m., because there wasn’t any light, and because of the chance of getting robbed,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter. “We were constantly hearing about people being murdered.”

Convinced that she couldn’t stay another day, Rodriguez made the toughest decision of her life: She left her mother and brothers behind in San Juan for an unknown future in Danbury.

Today Rodriguez can manage a smile. Sitting with her boyfriend, William Figueroa, and her sister, Kristal Montanez, who made the trip here from San Juan with her, Rodriguez is putting her hope in a new city.

The three adults and three children are being housed in the La Quinta motel, courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They are on the waiting list for subsidized housing, and are receiving health and food benefits. Montanez’s 8-year-old daughter is enrolled in Danbury public school and is adjusting to classes.

And now that Rodriguez and Montanez have each found jobs and can start thinking about saving money, Danbury seems more like home, they said.

Rodriguez’s story is like those of hundreds of others people are telling in Hartford, Bridgeport, and across Connecticut, which has a higher percentage of Puerto Ricans than any state.

“The governor has asked us to treat this as though it was our own natural disaster, so we have developed a system using the governor’s unified command that involves FEMA, state agencies, regional coordinators, nonprofit groups, and local governments,” said Brenda Bergeron, an attorney with the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. “The numbers are changing daily, but we have a good system in place to help these families.”

The state’s latest numbers show that 850 families from Puerto Rico are receiving government assistance with shelter, food health care…

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