Almost a year after María: Puerto Rican narrates the nightmare of living Florence in North Carolina

By Manuel Crespo Feliciano, Accuweather en Español staff writer
September 13, 2018, 3:54:57 PM EDT

Thousands of Puerto Ricans in North Carolina face the uncertainty and the terrible memories of what they experienced last year at home, a week before the first anniversary of Hurricane Maria's passage through Puerto Rico.

The memory of strong winds and heavy rain, fallen trees, floods, scarcity of food and drinking water, as well as the lack of access to essential medical services, reminds thousands of Puerto Ricans of the possibility of losing everything due to the impact of Florence in the next several days.

For Puerto Rican Grace Russe, 25, it has not been an easy process. After developing a complicated and strange disease as a result of Hurricane Maria, Grace moved to the United States to be treated.

"Here I go again, I'm going to lose everything again," said Russe, minutes before boarding the plane that will take her to Florida where her parents and daughter are waiting for her.


Grace Russe lives proud of her origins, of being a single mother and of working hard for her daughter's future, she told us.

After the disaster unleashed by María, 83 percent of the island's residents registered significant damage to their homes, power cuts, employment problems and worsening health conditions.

Against this background, thousands of Puerto Ricans decided to migrate to the United States in search of better living conditions. North Carolina was one of the places that received the largest number of refugees after the cyclone.

According to data from the Census Bureau of North Carolina, the Puerto Rican population increased 22.5 percent in the last three years. In addition, the Puerto Rican Studies Center of CUNY University estimates that by 2014, a total of 89,212 Puerto Ricans lived in North Carolina and represented 1.7 percent of all Puerto Ricans living in the United States.

Juan Rojas, Cori Rojas

It is estimated that around 200,000 residents left the island after Hurricane Maria. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Russe has managed to settle in the city of Charlotte with her 3-year-old daughter Alina Stella. She currently alternates her life between raising her daughter and working as a teacher in a preschool.

Hours before Hurricane Florence makes landfall, the young woman felt her heart tighten at the thought of losing everything.

"I felt that Maria had taken away a lot from me. I felt that I hated a natural phenomenon. But it has really given me a lot. It has given me security and the certainty that the only thing that can stop you is yourself," she said.

She carries only a backpack with some pieces of clothing and essential items. That, and the hope that everything will be well and that, if a tragedy happens, she has the strength to keep moving forward.

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