Orlando airport relief center for Hurricane Maria evacuees will close this month


The disaster relief center set up at Orlando International Airport in October to help Hurricane Maria evacuees will be closing on Dec. 29.

Since the center's opening on Oct. 3, thousands of people from Puerto Rico and, to a lesser extent, the U.S. Virgin Islands, have flown to Florida because of deplorable living conditions left in the wake of Maria. More than 239,000 people have flown from Puerto Rico to Florida through major airports in Tampa, Miami and Orlando in that time period, according to the latest numbers from the state emergency management division. The center has provided help to more than 28,000 people, of which 6,000 came directly from arriving flights, according to press release from the airport. Florida Gov. Rick Scott directed relief centers to open in the Orlando airport as well as Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami cruise terminal.

"The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is pleased to have been able to compassionately serve those who have been affected greatly in the wake of Hurricane Maria by hosting the disaster relief center at Orlando International Airport," said Frank Kruppenbacher, chairman of GOAA, in a statement. "The Aviation Authority appreciates Governor Rick Scott and his team for their leadership as well as the support of all the community partners who made this endeavor so successful."

The disaster relief center provided a myriad of helpful resources to evacuees from governmental agencies and nonprofits such as emergency shelter, job referrals, health services, FEMA assistance, school registrations, food assistance and clothing.

A new disaster relief center providing the same services will eventually open in Orange County before the end of the year, says Alberto Moscoso, a spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Moscoso says the decision to close the center at the Orlando airport came after Hurricane Maria evacuees were leaving the airport on arrival and later making the long journey back to the airport for services.

"The effort is to bring services closer to people in the community and make it easier for those folks to get those services," Moscoso says.

On another note, FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center at the Orange County Bank on 250 N. Orange Blossom Trail will close and reopen in the same location as a U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Outreach Center on Dec. 21. SBA representatives will be available to meet with business owners and residents to answer questions about the disaster loan program from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the location Monday through Saturday, and no appointment is necessary. For more information, click here.

This story has been updated with comments from state officials.