By Carey Codd

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WESTON (CBSMiami) – In a crowded room at the Weston YMCA, Alicia Diaz-Soto sat exhausted from a long day of travel. She and her two kids, ages 4 and 2, arrived in South Florida at 3 a.m. Friday after evacuating Puerto Rico as the island recovers from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

“It looked like an apocalyptic scene out there,” she said. “It was scary.”

Her husband who serves in the U.S. military remains on the island, working to help the island and its people recover. She wanted to stay and help but it became challenging for her children.

“Couple days I tried to tough it out,” she said. “(But we had) No water, no power.”

She and hundreds of other military families left the island for the U.S. Many of them wound up in Weston and that’s where the Weston YMCA stepped in to help. Coast Guard Capt. Todd Lutes, who is on the YMCA board, described the frantic rush for these families to leave Puerto Rico.

“When they got on the plane they were able to grab their children and a backpack and that’s about it,” he said.

He said the Weston community pulled together to donate food, toys, diapers, household items, strollers and car seats and lots of other things these families might need during their indefinite stay in South Florida.

“Short term is what do we do over the next few weeks and long term is this is gonna four months, six months down the road before they’re able to get back and reunite with the rest of their families, working hard,” Lutes said.

On Friday night they were treated to a meal and fellowship and told that the Y would welcome them with a membership and anything else they needed. Angie Miller works for the Y and is a military spouse herself.

“I want them to feel like this is their home, just as much as it has become my home,” said Miller, the YMCA’s Director of Family Services. “That my doors are open to them. Our doors are open to them. Whatever we can do for them, we’re here.”

Alicia Diaz-Soto is touched by the outpouring during such a difficult time.

“This reminds me that we have people all over that are willing to help us,” Diaz-Soto said. “Sometimes you forget living on an island that people remember you. But seeing this has been amazing.”

Arrangements are being made to enroll the children who are evacuating Puerto Rico into schools here in Broward and across the state.

The collection effort for these displaced military families continues. If you want to donate items to help these military families the Weston YMCA will continue to collect necessary items.


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