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Displaced Puerto Ricans seek refuge in Florida

Officials are scrambling to manage a migration influx, impacting education budgets, housing, demographics and voter rolls.

17 PHOTOS

Debora Oquendo, 43, makes a phone call to a doctor for her 10-month-old daughter in a hotel room where she lives, in Orlando, Florida on Dec. 4, 2017.

Oquendo and her baby girl Genesis Rivera share a hotel room, temporarily paid for by Federal Emergency Management Agency. They fled Puerto Rico in October after Hurricane Maria destroyed their house.

Oquendo, who found a part-time job that pays minimum wage, fears they will be homeless when that assistance runs out this month. "I don't have enough money to move to another place," Oquendo said. "I feel alone, and I'm afraid."

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Eliany Martell, 5, reacts to being scolded by her father Felix Martell, left, 43, at a launderette in Ocala Dec. 2.

Martell is the primary caretaker for the child after his wife died two years ago. He worried Eliany's education would suffer in Puerto Rico due to lengthy school closures following Hurricane Maria.

Father and daughter are now living in a run-down hotel paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Martell has yet to find a job. Still, he said there is no turning back. "The girl has learned more in three weeks of school here than in the entire semester on the island," he said. "I am concentrating on her future."

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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People buy groceries at Willers Supermarket which specializes in Puerto Rican products, in Kissimmee on Dec. 3.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Felix Rodriguez, 11, hugs his mother Nydia Irizarry, 45, before a school bus picks him up outside a hotel where he lives with his family, in Orlando on Dec. 11.

Felix, his 22-year-old sister Keyshla Betancourt Irizarry and their mother came from Puerto Rico on a humanitarian flight in October after Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Jose E. Torres fills out a job application at a supermarket after receiving a notification that he does not qualify for aid provided by the state to Puerto Ricans who were affected by Hurricane Maria, in Orlando on Dec. 13.

Torres arrived from Puerto Rico with his wife Luz Brenda Lebron and three children after Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September. The family lives in a hotel, which provides a temporary housing for displaced Puerto Ricans.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Liz Vazquez helps her son Raymond Fernandez Vazquez with his homework in a hotel room where they live, in Orlando on Dec. 6.

Liz, her husband and their two sons arrived to Florida after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in late September.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Keyshla Betancourt, 22, who suffers from brain cancer, takes off her wig after her first radiotherapy treatment, at a hotel in Orlando on Dec. 11.

Suffering with the blood cancer Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Betancourt was deteriorating fast on an island where hospitals have been badly damaged, doctors and nurses have emigrated and electricity outages are still widespread.

She is now on Florida's Medicaid plan, which pays for her daily radiation treatments. Living in a cramped Orlando hotel room, the family has no plans to return to the island. "We are staying for good," Betancourt said. "I cannot get the best medical help in Puerto Rico, and it has become even worse after Hurricane Maria."

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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People dance as Jibaro music band plays at El Jibarito Restaurant where Puerto Ricans gather, in Kissimmee on Dec. 10.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Hygiene products and other things belonging to Sergio Diaz, 54, lie on a table in a hotel room where Diaz now lives, in Orlando on Nov. 30. Diaz lost his house in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Luz Brenda Lebron leans on a shopping cart after receiving a notification that she does not qualify for aid provided by the state to Puerto Ricans who were affected by Hurricane Maria, in Orlando on Dec. 13.

Lebron arrived from Puerto Rico with her husband Jose E. Torres and three children after Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Waleska Rivera, left, 42, her husband Hector Oyola, 43, and their son Ethan Alejandro Oyola, 9, lie on a bed as Waleska undergoes her dialysis treatment in a hotel room, where she lives with her family, in Orlando on Dec. 7.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Sergio Diaz, 54, sits on a bed in a hotel room where he now lives, in Orlando on Nov. 30. Diaz lost his house in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit the island in late September.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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People take food at a church which distributes aid to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, in Orlando on Dec. 9.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Debora Oquendo, center, 43, cries as she leans on her friend at a church which distributes aid to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, in Orlando on Dec. 9.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Liz Vazquez, left, Anaitza Soler, second left, and Cyd Marie Pagan, second right, fill out documentation to receive aid from an NGO Salvation Army at a hotel in Orlando on Dec. 7.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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Children accompanied by their parents walk from a school bus stop, in Orlando on Nov. 13.

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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People attend a Spanish Mass conducted by Father Jose Rodriguez at the Episcopal Church Jesus of Nazareth, in Orlando on Nov. 26.

Photos: 100 days in the dark leave Puerto Ricans with glimmer of hope

— Alvin Baez / Reuters
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