(TNS) - Thousands of storm-weary but relieved hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands arrived Tuesday at Port Everglades aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship.
The Adventure of the Seas, with a capacity of up to 3,807 passengers, sailed into the Broward County seaport after concluding a humanitarian relief mission that delivered essential supplies to residents in the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territories. The cruise ship then was used to transport many island residents with medical and special needs to the U.S. mainland for treatment and better living conditions.
From the U.S. Virgin Islands, priority was given to high risk pregnant women, the elderly and those with urgent medical needs, Governor Kenneth E. Mapp said. Many other passengers had commitments from family members to stay with them in the U.S.
Laura Berrios, 30, who arrived with her two small children aged 3 and 8, was among the 1,791 people from Puerto Rico on board, most of whom were fleeing the wreckage and dire conditions left behind by Hurricane Maria. Berrios said the well-being of her children was the overriding factor in her decision to leave her San Juan home.
"There is no power and although we had some water, it's not potable because the treatment plants are not working." Berrios said. Her mother-in-law who lives in South Florida was scheduled to pick them up and drive them to Tennessee to stay with family there.
Carl Fleming, 24, a cook from St. Thomas, lamented the current state of his island home as he waited to transfer to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a flight to Austin, Texas, his final destination.
More than 3,000 people from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were brought to Florida on board the Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
"We're down right now,” he said. “We have no power, we have nothing. There isn't much to do back home right now because we don't have any tourists to provide the money. The only thing making money right now is the gas stations and food places."
University of Miami MBA student Adam Quintanilla, 29, who has family and friends in Puerto Rico, was among those who stood ready to help the displaced passengers arriving at the port. He turned out, he said, because he wanted to help. So he organized nearly two dozen volunteers — many bilingual — to greet and assist the Spanish-speaking evacuees who arrived aboard the ship.
Quintanilla said the roughly 20 volunteers planned to assist through the American Red Cross with translation services, filling out Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork and providing access to cell phones and chargers.
“I’m really happy about the volunteerism going on. A lot of people want to help out,” he said. “And this is something closer to home that we can do to try to ease the suffering.”
More than 1,400 people aboard the Adventure of the Seas were from the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to a tourism official.
Some 866 passengers boarded the ship Friday in St. Croix, and another 560 from St. Thomas and St. John joined them Saturday before it departed for Fort Lauderdale, said Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the territory’s commissioner of tourism, in a news release Sunday.
The Adventure of the Seas’ relief trip brings the total number of people evacuated from the U.S. Virgin Islands on “mercy cruises” to 3,000 since hurricanes Maria and Irma, Nicholson-Doty said.
Hurricane Maria churned through the Caribbean, delivering new devastation to islands previously hit by Hurricane Irma.
Other islanders — close to 1,500 — were also able to escape the harsh living conditions created by the storms on mercy flights sponsored by airlines such as Delta, United and JetBlue.
"These gestures go a long way … to help the people of the Virgin Islands get back on our feet and get our economy moving again,” said Nicholson-Doty.
Adventure of the Seas’ regular Sept. 30 cruise was canceled to facilitate the relief mission. The cruise ship will return to its home port of San Juan on Friday to prepare for its next scheduled sailing the following day. That sailing, however will operate, on an amended itinerary, which will replace St. Croix with Martinique, Royal Caribbean said.
Passengers booked on the canceled cruise received a full refund of the fare and fees paid, and a 25 percent discount for a future cruise booked within 30 days, according to the Miami-based cruise operator. Prepaid shore excursions were also refunded.
©2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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