As mayors of cities with large Puerto Rican populations continue to advocate for federal assistance to help with the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who are expected to temporarily seek shelter with friends and families in the US, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Florida, allowing state agencies to take extraordinary measures to assist families that will soon be arriving in droves to cities like Orlando and Miami, both of which feature large Puerto Rican populations.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Scott announced that disaster relief centers will be set up at Orlando International Airport and in Miami to help those seeking refuge in Florida.
“Puerto Rico is absolutely devastated and so many families have lost everything,” Scott said in a released statement. “Our goal is to make sure that while [Puerto Rican] Governor [Ricardo] Rosselló is working to rebuild Puerto Rico, any families displaced by Maria that come to Florida are welcomed and offered every available resource from the state.”
The relief center at OIA, and two others at Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami, open Tuesday, according to a release from Scott’s office, just days after Puerto Rican airports reopened following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
“These Disaster Relief Centers will help Puerto Ricans coming into Florida get matched with all the available state resources they may need and ensure that as families come into Florida, they are given the tools they need to work and provide their children with a great education,” Scott stated.
Scott’s emergency order will allow state agencies braod autonomy to waive regulations and do whatever is necessary to help Puerto Ricans. Importantly, it could also help bring more federal funding to help the state cope with aid efforts.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, wreaking destruction across the island and knocking out power and water. Most of the island remains without electricity and potable water 12 days after the storm hit.
State lawmakers have said they expect at least 100,000 Puerto Ricans to flee to Florida because of Maria, forcing the state to step up its education, housing and job-placement offerings. It's expected that some of those displaced by the storm could resettle permanently, as the reconstruction effort in Puerto Rico is expected to take months, if not years.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said the Legislature should hold a special session, as he estimates hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are coming to Florida. The 2018 regular session starts in January.
“FL needs 2 deal w/humanitarian crisis + over 100K Boricuas who'll seek refuge here right now, not in Jan.,” he tweeted.
We now wait to hear from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. NYC officials have said more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans could arrive in NYC alone.