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MIAMI (CBSMiami) –Crews rescued nine people believed to be Cuban migrants on Monday.

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It all started when a tug boat in the area called for help saying they saw at least three people in the water clinging to debris.

Authorities jumped into action and called other agencies for back up including Marine Patrol, Miami Fire Rescue and Coast Guard crews.

Chopper4 was over the Atlantic Ocean on the East of Sands Key as crews pulled people out of the water and even airlifted some.

“We found approximately maybe 8 or 9 people in the water, some holding onto life tubes, whatever they could hold on to,” said Antonio Hernandez of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

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Two people who were in distress were taken to Mercy Hospital. Another was airlifted to Kendall Hospital.

“We’re not sure how they are doing. We know they are stable,” said Miami Fire Captain Ignatius Carroll.

“We do know they are happy to be out of the water right now. They could have a variety of medical problems but until they are evaluated, it’s difficult to say what problems were caused by their exposure.”

Authorities say five migrants were rescued by Miami Fire Rescue and two others swam to Elliot Key and are still at large.

Lieutenant Eric Lowd of Miami-Dade Fire Air Rescue was in the thick of it and even spoke to one of the people about their journey.

“It was long and hot and he was thirsty and cold,” said Lowd.

Late Monday afternoon, The U.S. Coast Guard put out a tweet that the Cuban migrants had been in the water at least 10 days.

Lowd told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that the group looked better than expected.

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“They looked pretty good for someone who had been floating,” said Lowd.

Lowd, who is a flight medic and has been with Miami-Dade Fire rescue for 18 years, said it was very gratifying to save lives at sea.

“We train all the time for this and practice for safety and rescues and this went well,” he said. “It feels good to be part of this and I hope they have a fruitful life.”

Coast Guard crews said they do not know where the people are from but they believe they are Cuban.

But the search isn’t over.  One of the people who was pulled out said there were 13 people aboard the raft when it broke apart around 10:00 p.m. on Sunday.

With eight people rescued and two who made it to Elliott Key, three people are still missing.

“Right now, we are actively searching for three persons in the water,” said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Richard Hartley. “We are doing everything we can to find these people that are missing.”

“This is a very dangerous journey,” said Hartley. “We do not recommend that anyone take to the sea like this. People risk their lives doing this and sometimes they don’t make it.

In the meantime, they are asking the public to keep a look out.

“Keep a sharp eye look out,” said Hartley. “If you see anything, contact the Coast Guard. You can call us on channel 16 if you’re on the boat. Just let us know.”

In 1994, rafts carried as many as 35,000 Cuban refugees into the United States, says Juan Tamayo, the former head of Cuban affairs for the Miami Herald.

“The Cuban economy was bankrupt, more than bankrupt, it was in total chaos,” said Tamayo. “Over a period of four years, the economy shrank by about 35-percent. People were hungry.”

While he doesn’t expect anything like the 1994 exodus from Cuba, Tamayo says there are factors pushing a new wave of immigrants to leave the island country now.

“The reforms that were announced and tried to put into place by Raul Castro have not worked out that way that they wanted them to, and people are getting frustrated in Cuba and they say, “We’ll we’ve waited long enough.'”

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