Maria evacuees arrive in South Florida by air, sea

FORT LAUDERDALE-HOLLYWOOD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, FLA. (WSVN) - Storm-weary evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands arrived in South Florida after making their way to the mainland by air and sea, Tuesday.

Despite a delay, spirits were high at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a Spirit Airlines relief flight from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, touched down, just after 8 p.m.

Natali Rivera, who was awaiting her brother’s arrival, could hardly contain her excitement. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” she said.

She was hardly the only one grateful and relieved to see loved ones. “I feel blessed because I have the opportunity to have my parents here with me,” said Carmen Thevening.

On board the Spirit flight, 228 people were evacuating the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Most of them were elderly passengers, between 80 and 93 years old.

“It’s been a struggle. I mean, at least we have a roof,” said Roberto Rivera, who met his little sister and cousins at FLL.

Rivera said he is relieved to be back on the mainland. “I’m living in D.C. now. I just went back to help my grandparents the day before the storm and got stuck for an extra two weeks,” he said.

The Spirit jet served an important purpose before the pickup. Airline employees packed it with supplies to send to the island.

“We want to make sure that they’re welcome and they feel a little bit of love from South Florida,” said Spirit spokesperson Barbara Webster.

The Spirit flight landed hours after 3,000 people arrived at Port Everglades aboard the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said he felt compelled to lend a helping hand. “We’re called Royal Caribbean, and we feel like our Caribbean neighbors needed help, and we’ve helped,” he said.

The ship carried families from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Many said it’s been difficult to find basic necessities since the powerful storm made its way through the Caribbean.

“I don’t have water. I don’t have power,” said passenger Michael Rivera after he and his children reunited with his mother Migdalia. “It’s really hard to get it right now.”

“Oh, God, you don’t know how happy I am. It’s been a long battle to get them here,” said Migdalia, “but finally I have him home.”

At Miami International Airport, Tuesday night, Arnaldo Rivera reunited with his wife Rosanna and their children, who had sailed on the Royal Caribbean ship.

Rivera had to stay for business, so he took a ferry to the Dominican Republic and then flew to MIA.

The family said they’re looking forward to regrouping in South Florida and will head home soon. “We’re going to have dinner and rest,” said Rosanna.

“Enjoy with my family a few days here in Miami,” said Arnaldo.

A Spirit Airlines spokesperson said Tuesday’s relief flight was their fifth one bringing Caribbean evacuees to South Florida.

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