NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - Puerto Ricans will never forget September 20, 2017. Hurricane Maria ripped through the island, causing catastrophic damage. Thousands lost their lives in the days and weeks after.
For months, residents had no power and basic necessities like food and water were limited. Desiree Cancela Feliciano experienced it firsthand.
"The water went into my apartment and everything was wet," she said, in Spanish. The mother of three lost everything. She recalled the days after the hurricane.
"To look at your island, I was born and raised here, it was so impactful," Desiree said. "I said to myself, 'What now? What am I doing to do?' I got depressed."
She worried about her boys. Her 2-year-old son went into respiratory arrest. The hospitals were closed and so she rushed him to a pharmacy where a doctor was able to temporarily treat him. Meanwhile, her 16-year-old son became depressed.
"My son, who is 16, is the one who has psychological problems," Desiree said.
The disruption to daily life made things worse for many Puerto Rican families. Feeling anxious and hopeless, Desiree packed her bags. She and her sons arrived in New York on October 19.
"It is an immigrant experience even though they are American citizens," said Soldanela Rivera, the director of presidential strategic initiatives at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. She has been helping Puerto Rican families adapt to New York.
"Helping to facilitate translation, help them understand how to transition," Rivera said.
FEMA put Desiree and her family up in a hotel in the Bronx in January. However, in June they had to move because FEMA would no longer pay for their housing. They packed up and moved to a shelter on 62nd Street and Madison Ave, something that has affected her teenager.
"My son tells me he doesn't want to move again," she said. "That he wants to move into an apartment."
Rivera said Desiree was offered a place with a kitchen but her son is fearful of moving yet again and that professionals advised her to stay put and try to get the boy help.
Desiree travels back to the Bronx almost every day to see doctors and buy food, which she says is cheaper than on Madison Avenue. She said the instability has taken a toll on her family.