Puerto Rican hurricane victims spend first Christmas in Fayetteville

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Friday, December 22, 2017
Puerto Rico family shelters in Fayetteville
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Fayetteville is a Christmas gift enough for a Puerto Rican family displaced by Hurricane Maria.

FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Many families are still struggling to recover in the wake of those devastating hurricanes. One family forced to flee Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is now finding refuge in Fayetteville.

Michele Saul-Colon and her husband were empty-nesters up until almost two months ago. Her niece Luisa Melendez moved in with her three sons and just a few days ago, so did Luisa's sister, Saribelle, and her family. A total of 10 people now live in the Saul-Colon's three-bedroom house.

"We have to make do where we can," said Michele Saul-Colon. "We have everything scheduled down to keep the costs where we can afford to pay it."

That means the lights and TV must be turned off when they aren't being used. Everyone in the household has been given four minutes to shower a day. Saul-Colon is now exhausting her savings to feed the family.

Her niece, Luisa is grateful to have a place of refuge. After Hurricane Maria hit, she recalls many nights sleeping in the car with her sons.

"It was because of the mosquitos. My kids needed to be comfortable sleeping," Luisa said. "One day we only ate bread and water. His stomach was driving him crazy and he couldn't sleep. I said are you hungry? He said 'yes mama, I'm hungry.'"

Luisa told ABC11 that schools in Puerto Rico are only open four hours a day. Her children are enrolled in Cumberland County schools and regularly seeing psychologists because of the trauma Maria left them with. The desecrated island has no electricity most days when fuel used for generators run out. The island typically shuts down at nightfall.

"It's depressing because I like to work and over there for two months and a half, I did nothing," said Eliecer Gonzalez.

Three months after Hurricane Maria, the family said everyone in Puerto Rico is still picking up the pieces. Many of them are desperate to survive the storm-ravaged conditions.

As for Christmas, the family says their gift is just being in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Both nieces say they have no plans of going back.