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Florida Matters Takes A Look At Hurricane Maria Survivors, One Year Later

Puerto Rico National Guard
This image from Carolina, Puerto Rico was taken the day after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

It’s been a year since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. Recovery continues on the devastated island, but transitions are also happening here in Florida, where many residents evacuated and some have chosen to stay.

We’re hearing from:

  • 35-year-old Leslie Diaz from Carolina, Puerto Rico. She came to Tampa last November without her husband, who stayed behind to secure their home on the island.  Her three young children and niece came with her.
  • Julio Ildefonso, who traveled to Tampa from Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, shortly after the hurricane. He came here with his 66-year-old mother, Mariana Vazquez, who suffers from dementia.
  • Melissa Brass, Disaster Services coordinator for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The organization helped Diaz, Ildefonso and hundreds of other families find housing and work in Hillsborough County.

Also, we’re sharing the work of some student journalists at the University of Florida. Last month, a team of the university’s Noticias WUFT and WUFT - the NPR station in Gainesville - visited Puerto Rico to find out how life is for the island’s residents. It’s part of a project called Life After Maria.

  • Reporter Claudia Perez Brito tells us that one of the immediate impacts of the storm was a dramatic increase in the number of stray animals on the island. It has become such a problem that organizations on the U.S. mainland have had to step in and help.
  • Reporter Alexis Howard explains that while Puerto Rico has always been a popular tourist destination, that aspect of the island’s economy is seeing a slow return to normal. She said the government and local business owners disagree on how far Puerto Rico’s tourism industry has come since Hurricane Maria.

I’m the lucky one who guides the WUSF News team as it shares news from across Florida and the 13 amazing counties that we call the greater Tampa Bay region.
Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.