Increasing number of Hurricane Maria victims now call Lorain home

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LORAIN, Ohio - In the weeks since Hurricane Maria plunged Puerto Rico into disaster, many are seeking refuge in an unexpected place, Lorain County.

"Our community is averaging one family per day," explained city Councilman Angel Arroyo.

Puerto Rican-owned businesses in Lorain are banding together to help families looking to make a new home more than one thousand miles away from the island.

Jason and Marieliz Crespo moved to Lorain last week and have no intention on returning.

"Puerto Rico is not the same anymore, it's devastated," said Marieliz Crespo. "I don't know, there's not much to offer right now."

Jason spent the day performing at Lorain's busy carry-out MiCasa Sabor Latino, where owner Ramon Osorio donned a shirt that said "Puerto Rico will rise."

"In order for it to rise we all need to stick together," said Osorio. "...We need more of the community to show more support."

This month, Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy says he plans to meet with community leaders to determine what, if any, funding is available to help the increase of hurricane survivors. County officials are also looking at ways to attract hurricane victims to the area and provide job opportunities to families working to get back to normal.

It's a goal Councilman Arroyo echoes.

"In Orlando, they're getting 65,000 families or people in one month," said Arroyo. "So they have those centers already situated for fingerprinting in Florida where we don't have that here. My biggest concern is for families eligible for FEMA assistance that move here but don't have the documentation. How can they check into a hotel or how can they sign up for medical care?"

The councilman has helped donate several truckloads of supplies for hurricane relief efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. He believes if things don't change on the island, upwards of 1,000 people could eventually call cities across Lorain County home, mainly due to family ties and the tight-knit Puerto Rican community.

"I truly feel it can happen because the island of Puerto Rico only has 25 percent electricity," said Councilman Arroyo. "There are still pieces of the island that have not gotten full assistance yet."

A FEMA spokesperson told Fox 8 that more than 1 million registrations have been filed by Puerto Ricans so far. In many cases, due to the challenges with power, FEMA is taking those registrations by hand door to door, a process which can take an hour and a half. If eligible, some can receive up to $33,000 dollars in aid.

While the Crespos wait for assistance, Marieliz says one thing is clear.

"Puerto Rico will take years to get back to where it was."