Skip to comments.Holiday Hopes: Maria evacuees search for a little help after landing in Tampa
Posted on 12/03/2017 11:39:42 AM PST by 4Runner
The concrete house in the Puerto Rican countryside town of Arecibo had been in Sheila Reyes' family for generations; the stately old tree in the yard had weathered so many storms.
It took the wrath of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on the island Sept. 20 as a Category 5 hurricane, to destroy the house that Reyes, 33, and her partner Jose De Jesus Sierra, 36, had turned into a home for them and their three children.
They thought it would be the safest place to ride it out.
Instead, a tree crashed through one side of the house, destroying the laundry room and the children's bedroom and trapping the family including 12-year-old Daria, 7-year-old Thais and 5-year-old Leny inside the damaged house.
They found shelter when they relocated to Tampa on Oct. 24, but they won't forget how the storm surge rushed in unabated on that fateful day.
The family shared its story for Holiday Hopes, the annual Tampa Bay Times> series that asks readers to fulfill the wishes of those in need.
"Nobody slept that night," said Reyes, who had broken her foot shortly before the storm and could only watch as her kids helped their dad and grandfather try fruitlessly to scoop out the water.
For two weeks after the storm stranded them in their decimated house, Sierra and the children walked to a municipal water tank, standing in line for five hours or more, every two days; similarly long lines yielded small amounts of food and gas.
Reyes' leukemia-stricken mother couldn't go for her treatments; there were so many dying or dead people crowding the hospital that she couldn't risk exposing herself to all that bacteria.
School was on hold indefinitely. Because Thais and Leny both have attention deficit disorder and a condition called Brown's syndrome that makes it difficult for their eyes to function properly, they were falling hopelessly behind in their classes.
Reyes, an engineer by trade, spent the last three years working from home to make sure her children stayed on track.
She and Sierra, a paramedic, had already contemplated a move to the U.S. to be with family in Rhode Island, but hadn't saved up enough money.
They knew they couldn't stay in Puerto Rico any longer.
Sierra's mother, Margarita Sierra Mercado, decided to take her son's young family into her Tampa mobile home, squeezing seven people into two bedrooms. Sierra's brother came too, wanting to raise money for his family back home.
Reyes' mother remained in Puerto Rico, afraid of being a burden. Her daughter and grandchildren cry for her all the time.
"If we had our own place for her to visit, she could have come with us, but we don't," said Reyes, pausing to let the tears come.
All three of her children jumped to comfort her with hugs and whispers of "Te amo" -- Spanish for "I love you."
The kids started school the day after they arrived in Tampa, despite being sick with bad colds from stress and abrupt climate change.
"They didn't have all the registration papers or supplies yet," Sierra said. "They just went."
When Reyes went to a local doctor in Tampa to do something about her untreated broken foot, she was told she needed to see a podiatrist an unaffordable option without the government health care she had in Puerto Rico.
Brenda Irizarry is a Puerto Rican native who spearheads Course of Action PR, a local nonprofit that partnered with the U.S. Air Force in Tampa to send planes of donated supplies just days after the storm.
Irizarry's team found a podiatrist for Reyes, who is still wearing a brace but is expected to heal nicely.
The family is in high spirits despite their tribulations.
"From day one, I noticed how close this family is," Irizarry said. "You can feel how much they love each other; if one cries, the others will too."
A tiny pair of Thais' mittens lies discarded on the floor near the air mattress he shares with his sisters, but otherwise, Mercado keeps her small home immaculate, with family photos lining the narrow walls.
A wooden Santa decoration that Sierra carved sits next to the front door hung with a Puerto Rican flag, wafting gently in the Florida breeze.
Sierra is an experienced paramedic, but the licensing requirements are different here than in Puerto Rico.
Both he and Reyes said they're willing to do any work that comes along until they can find something in their fields.
"I'm fine because my kids are safe and happy, but finding a job as an EMT and getting a home of our own would be the ideal situation," he said.
Sierra and Reyes sleep in a small bedroom filled to the brim with their children's things, and everyone shares one bathroom, but chatter and giggles fill the space.
The couple spends their time caring for their kids and job-hunting; there isn't much room for fun.
"We go to Wal-Mart," said Reyes with a chuckle. "That's our rollercoaster."
Before Maria, Reyes and her mother, who loves to sew, were making elaborate costumes for a Gasparilla-like festival back home called the Festival de Mascaras that the whole family looks forward to.
The outfits can take up to a year to make, and Sierra said it would be easier for his wife to make them with a sewing machine.
The children's wishes for Christmas are typical kid stuff: rollerblades for little Leny, a remote control car featuring the Hulk for Thais and a laptop or a Nintendo Switch for Daria.
More than anything, they want a home to call their own, but Daria's first thought was the people they had to leave behind.
"I wish for help for Puerto Rico, so they can get better."
Contact Libby Baldwin at email@example.com.
and they couldn’t find the FEMA command post just down the street
During Hurricane Wilma, a tree crashed down on my house, trapping us inside.
After we emerged, the tree was chopped up for firewood, and we repaired the house.
We did not flee to another place and expect others to take care of us.
That is how it’s done.
Hooray! More DemocRAT voters!
>>>Reyes, 33, and her partner Jose De Jesus Sierra, 36, had turned into a home for them and their three children<<<
She had three Kids with her Business Partner? Does her Husband know about this? Paging Fred Farkle.
“Reyes, an engineer by trade, spent the last three years working from home to make sure her children stayed on track.
She and Sierra, a paramedic, had already contemplated a move to the U.S. to be with family in Rhode Island, but hadn’t saved up enough money.”
You seem a touch bitter about this story. An engineer and a paramedic ? Not welcome here ?
Exactly. Why couldn’t they repair the house instead of just walking off? When something breaks, responsible adults fix it and life goes on. There seems to be enough adults in that family to pitch in and get the job done in no time.
I did most of the work myself.
And I’m not even an engineer.
They are US Citizens, they have all rights to come here.
Problem is, they expect HANDOUTS AND FREE SCHIT, instead of planning ahead, like I would have to do if I mover to PR.
This story reminds me of the Chauffeur.
A young man with his pants hanging half off his butt, two gold front teeth, and a half inch thick gold chain around his neck; walked into the local welfare office to pick up his check.
He marched up to the counter and said, “Hi. You know, I just hate drawing welfare. I’d really rather have a job. I don’t like taking advantage of the system, getting something for nothing.”
The social worker behind the counter said “Your timing is excellent. We Just got a job opening from a very wealthy old man who wants a chauffeur and bodyguard for his beautiful daughter. You will have to drive around in his 2017 Mercedes-Benz CL, and he will supply all of your clothes.”
“Because of the long hours, meals will be provided. You’ll also be expected to escort the daughter on her overseas holiday trips. This is rather awkward to say but you will also have, as part of your job, the assignment to satisfy her sexual urges as the daughter is in her mid-20’s and has a rather strong sex drive.”
The guy, just plain wide-eyed, said, “You’re bullshittin’ me!”
The social worker said, “Yeah, well... you started it.”
“””When Reyes went to a local doctor in Tampa to do something about her untreated broken foot, she was told she needed to see a podiatrist an unaffordable option without the government health care she had in Puerto Rico.”””
Pure BS. Florida Medicaid covers these situations. The lowlifes who get paid minimum wages need to be called out when they publish false information.
When I break my foot I see an orthopedic physician. Just sayin...
I’m a touch bitter! They left sick grandma in Puerto Rico?
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