South Florida preparing for Puerto Rican evacuees amid relief efforts

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - A plane carrying 50 generators took off at 7:30 a.m.,Friday, en route to Puerto Rico.

The island, in desperate need of resources after being battered by hurricane Maria.

Thanks to the Aids Healthcare Foundation, the generators will be helping medical professionals do their job.

“We’ll be getting them out to health departments, so that we can take some of the burden off of the hospitals – the hospitals that have been … dealing with chronic disease issues and dealing with the challenges of those folks that have some time sensative medical needs.”

But as the help begins to move in to the island, many people are trying to move out – on planes bound for South Florida.

Meanwhile South Floridians continue to do what they can to send supplies and support to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, local officials and organizations are also preparing for an influx of evacuees from the Caribbean island.

7News cameras showed volunteers filling box after box of supplies in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, Thursday morning. The haul is being prepped for shipment over to Puerto Rico.

The same morning, volunteers with the New York City-based nonprofit Guardian Angels flew out to Puerto Rico to help with relief efforts. “My team members are from there. They have family; we have a vested interest in not just donating but actually going there and doing what we can, where we can, to help,” said Arnaldo Salinas of the Guardian Angels.

But as the help begins to move into the island, many there are trying to get out. To answer that need, the relief effort is taking on a new mission.

“Now we’re going to raise funds for the Puerto Ricans that are being transported over, so we can help them help themselves, so to speak,” said Luis De Rosa from the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce.

Puerto Rican residents are arriving to the mainland daily by air. 7News cameras captured evacuees at a baggage claim area at Miami International Airport.

“My heart is just broken, because to see Puerto Rico like that,” said Mia Ramos, “so I had to come here with my family.”

“A lot of people are trying to get out,” echoed another passenger.

Others are lining up to travel by sea, as they search for a place to call home.

Tourists in transit are also trapped in the island. Evacuees and tourists alike continue to wait in long lines at the Port of San Juan to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship destined for Port Everglades.

“This will be the new Ellis Island for Puerto Rico,” said Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

After dropping off relief supplies, Royal Caribbean International is making the Fort Lauderdale route possible in the wake of the major hurricane.

“The hurricane came, and no one could leave for three or four days,” said Philadelphia resident Davin Safer. “There was absolutely no way to get off the island unless you owned your own private plane.”

At the Port of San Juan, lists were made, and names and IDs were checked as people began to board. About 2,000 people were waiting in sweltering conditions for the evacuation out of Puerto Rico.

Among them was Miami resident Taylor McCloskey, who came to Puerto Rico to check on her family after Hurricane Irma. Maria kept her from getting back home.

“I need to get back. I need to get back to my life,” said McCloskey. “There’s no water. There’s no electricity.”

Meanwhile, Carvalho is brainstorming with the state and federal government to prepare for new students who are underway. He is asking for relief and funding.

“A lot of these kids are going to be arriving with significant needs: social and emotional needs, psychological support,” said Carvalho.

An influx of evacuees could also put a strain on local hospitals. Some of those facilities are in the process of creating their own post-Maria plan.

While the exact number of evacuees is unknown, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said there’s a good chance the county will need some help, as the crowds of people begin to arrive. “That is a federal responsibility, but by the same token, we are an open community, and we will help those in need,” he said, “as we ask people to help us when we’re in need.”

On the state level, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appears ready to welcome displaced residents with open arms. “Now, we don’t know how many people are going to come here, all right?” he said. “What we’re doing is, we’re getting prepared for how we’re going to take care of those students and those families.”

The Royal Caribbean cruise ship is due to arrive at Port Everglades on Tuesday.

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