Tuesday, March 20th marked six months to the day from the moment Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. The superstorm made landfall on September 20th and went on to destroy much of the island’s infrastructure, which forced many of its American citizen residents to flee to the mainland.
Axel Reyes was one of those Puerto Ricans forced to leave. He and his family found their way to New York, and half a year later, he, his wife and their three children are still sharing a single room in a Brooklyn hotel under the FEMA Transitional Shelter Department program.
At least they were until today. As the worst blizzard to hit the northeastern United States this winter rolls into the New York area, FEMA is kicking the Reyes family out of their hotel.
Video of Axel Reyes filming and family in the lobby of the Pointe Plaza Hotel has gone viral Wednesday. In it, we see his luggage and meager personal belongs stacked up awaiting transfer while his kids play in the light snow coming in at the front of the storm.
Really tough day for Axel Reyes and his family, who appear in my latest @villagevoice piece on Puerto Rican families living in NYC post Maria. They say they lost their FEMA TSA hotel room in BK in the middle of a snow storm. “My kids are suffering,” Axel told me. “I’m so tired.” pic.twitter.com/cU0ksIr9OM
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) March 21, 2018
Why is FEMA kicking them out onto the streets now? Because of a stipulation in the fine print of agency policy that requires an “assessment of damages” before an evacuee can qualify for an extension to their emergency housing. FEMA inspectors say they haven’t been able to complete their assessment of Reyes’ damages because, “he doesn’t have family or friends in Puerto Rico to let the inspectors inside,” according to the Village Voice.
“He says he’s received notice to move out of the hotel on Tuesday,” writes Emma Whitford. “A FEMA spokesperson says extensions are available for some families, but stressed that allowances are made on a case-by-case basis.”
Axel isn’t just sitting around doing nothing, either. The former owner of a restaurant in Puerto Rico is working five days a week as a metal worker to feed his family and save what money he can – just not quite enough yet for a New York area apartment.
While it isn’t clear exactly where he and his family will end up, he knows he can’t return to Puerto Rico even if he wanted to. “There’s no food, no water, no school, no light, no nothing. So I made the choice,” he told the Voice.
“And my choice turned out to be right. I’m working. I’m feeding my kids. I don’t have a stable home for them, no, I do not, but they’re eating every day.”