FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- 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, Gov. 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.
"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."