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Puerto Rican family starts over in TN with help from Nashville neighbors

(Submitted to Fox 17 News)

A Puerto Rican family, who lost everything in Hurricane Maria, found an outpouring of support from East Nashville neighbors to help them start over.

Katia Buckley moved to East Nashville two years ago from her family's home in Puerto Rico. Her sister Maria Cortes and Cortes' 1-year-old daughter Aurora lost everything at their home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last month.

On Monday, Cortes and her daughter moved to East Nashville after a friend helped them get a plane ride into Florida. Buckely said her sister brought one suitcase with them when they left San Juan.

Their mother is still on the island fighting illness. The sisters said she's in a shelter and getting medical attention.

"My mom called me the night before and said I'm just calling to say goodbye," Buckley said. "My mom won't leave my grandmother, and my grandmother won't leave her home."

Cortes said the island lost power and basic resources. She and her daughter only had enough food to eat once per day before coming here.

"She started getting sick, sweating out and getting fevers," Cortes said. "We would sit down, everybody ate at one time. We made sure everybody was full, and that was it. We sometimes ran out of water to drink, to shower... it was really tough."

Before he sister arrived, Buckley scrambled to make contact with family members on the island.

"I started mourning her," Buckley said. "Then day six my brother calls me and says 'I just heard from Maria...she's okay.'"

"Day six I knew my family was okay," Cortes said. "I still hadn't been able to move. I had no gas. I had no way of accessing our money."

Now that her sister and niece are safely in East Nashville, Buckley said neighbors are making them feel right at home.

"I couldn't say thank you enough," Cortes said. "I already got a job interview. I mean we are moving, we are getting things done."

Cortes is focusing on getting a job, car and finding daycare for her daughter. She says, her job interview yesterday went well but requires a car. Her job experience includes communications, customer service and more.

"I'm a single mom, and I live on a teacher's salary," Buckley said. "East Nashville really turned out for us, but it was also from all over.

Both sisters are still holding out hope for remaining friends and family in Puerto Rico. Cortes said she hopes more can be done to help them.

"People were dying," Cortes said. "People had no food, had no water. It's still happening."

Buckley is asking for baby girl clothes for 12 months and up, diapers, wipes and any other supplies that will be helpful. She's also asking for donations for her parents and grandparents still on the island.

Anyone interested in helping the Cortes family can email: mnlewis@fox17.com to get in contact with the family. Click here to help families still in Puerto Rico.

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