Hurricane Maria victims who relocated to the Lehigh Valley seeking shelter from the devastation did not have an easy time here

Written by on October 5, 2021

Hurricane Maria victims who relocated to the Lehigh Valley seeking shelter from the devastation did not have an easy time here. Many went back to Puerto Rico

By Genesis Ortega

October 5, 2021

FILE – Electricity poles and lines lay toppled on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File)

There are more than half a million Puerto Ricans living in Pennsylvania, some of them are here because of Hurricane Maria, the disaster that devastated the island four years ago this month. 

Listen to the story.

For the anniversary, the Bethlehem Area Public Library hosted a virtual discussion. 

The discussion included the fact that many came to try to find shelter from the storm’s effects with family and friends, but it hasn’t exactly been a smooth road for them.

Weighing in on the topic were several community leaders including Bethlehem activist Guillermo Lopez. 

“I was working in Easton at the time, and I believe in the Easton Area School District we had seven families that came with children, and within four months, they all went back,” Lopez said.

Their decision to go back could be attributed to the lack of housing and help with rent, which was one of the biggest challenges the community faced in the Lehigh Valley. 

“They were coming into a market that was already taxed with housing issues. Costs of living were already through the roof,” said Delia Marrero, who worked for the Hispanic Center Lehigh Valley in 2017. 

Marrero said despite efforts to raise money, even those who found temporary housing were not able to pass credit checks or come up with the first and last month’s rent causing them to fall through the cracks.

But according to Melinda Gonzalez, a socio-cultural anthropologist who spoke at the forum, the Lehigh Valley isn’t alone in this. Her dissertation research shows this happened across the United States. 

“By and large we lost track of people who migrated after Maria,” she said. 

Gonzalez said, overall, more research is needed to find the long-term impact of their displacement. 

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