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For Floridians With Family In Cuba, Recovery From Irma Is Twice As Taxing


Now to Florida. It's been nearly a week since Hurricane Irma made landfall there. Hundreds of thousands in South Florida are still without power. Kat Chow of NPR's Code Switch team reports that for some Floridians who have family in Cuba, the recovery after Irma is twice as taxing.

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: At a laundromat on Palm Avenue in Hialeah, Fla., the washing machines are whirring at full force. People are heaving dirty clothes into machines. One of those people is Yasmin Gonz.

YASMIN GONZ: I live in Hialeah, west Hialeah.

CHOW: Gonz is 47. And as someone with cousins, aunts and uncles back in Cuba, Gonz's worries about Hurricane Irma were twofold. The storm hit Cuba a day ahead of the U.S. And before Irma reached Hialeah, Gonz called her relatives in Havana to check in on them.

GONZ: They told me that this is a lot damage in Cuba - no power, no food, no water, a lot illness.

CHOW: She worried about them. And as Irma approached Florida, she worried about herself, her family and the whole state. Irma eventually veered west away from where Gonz lives. But the damage in Gonz's area wasn't the catastrophe she had braced for, she says. So I asked her, after hearing how Irma devastated her family in Cuba, has she been able to send money to them like she usually does?

GONZ: Not right now. I can't do it. Now I spend almost $40 only washing my clothes because no power in my house.

CHOW: Like a lot of people in South Florida, when the storm hit, Gon'z house lost power for four days. She says that the clinic she works at also lost power and closed its doors. And a few days of not being able to go to work means money is tight.

Just across the street, there's a bustling travel agency named Cubamerica with phones ringing constantly.

MADAY PEREZ: Everyone has come here saying they want to go to Cuba tomorrow.

CHOW: This is Maday Perez. Her aunt owns the agency. Perez tells me after Hurricane Irma, they've been swamped with people wanting to book flights or to send supplies to Cuba, except Irma wiped out the travel agency's Internet. So things are going slow. Still, they're trying.

PEREZ: Yesterday, there was a lady that sent a packet of food that was like 33 pounds. And the other day, it was 50 pounds.

CHOW: Perez says her family in south Florida dealt relatively well with the storm. Her family in Cuba - they live by the ocean. There was flooding - no power.

PEREZ: Here we have the generators. We have stuff that we could - we can deal with it, you know? It's not as bad. Over there, on a regular day, they don't have food.

CHOW: Her aunt, Mercedes Fidalgo, comes over to talk when there's a break in customers. Fidalgo recalls a moment from the day before. She had gotten a hold of their family in Cuba by phone to let them know that in Florida, they, too, were safe from Irma.

MERCEDES FIDALGO: (Speaking Spanish).

CHOW: Fidalgo says their relatives in Cuba we're worried for them, too. Though both families in Florida and Cuba face difficult recoveries from Irma, Fidalgo says she's grateful that at least they're all safe. Kat Chow, NPR News, Hialeah, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kat Chow
Kat Chow is a reporter with NPR and a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is currently on sabbatical, working on her first book (forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette). It's a memoir that digs into the questions about grief, race and identity that her mother's sudden death triggered when Kat was young.