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Central Florida gets ready to welcome Puerto Rican evacuees again, if necessary, as Fiona threatens

This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Fiona nearing Puerto Rico on Friday. Image: NOAA
This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Fiona nearing Puerto Rico on Friday. Image: NOAA

Leaders who helped Central Florida welcome evacuees after Hurricane Maria are getting ready in case they're needed again, as Tropical Storm Fiona is expected to bring high winds and flooding to Puerto Rico this weekend.

The community leaders and government officials came together in person and via Zoom Friday at the request of Episcopal priest Father Jose Rodriguez.

If needed this time, organizers -- including the Alianza Center and SOS! Orlando -- want to be ready before evacuees arrive at Orlando International.

Rodriguez said the Orlando community gave until it hurt after Maria.

He added: "We need to think more strategically as we approach these things and maybe say, it's OK if everyone else around us sends to our island. (I love Puerto Rico. I was born in it.) But we need to think that we have our place in this disaster. And our place in this disaster is receiving people who lost their homes."

Democratic Congressman Darren Soto of Orlando joined the meeting.

"We are already getting the band back together with Padre Jose today to hear from so many local leaders," Soto said."But the bottom line, it takes a federal, state, nonprofit and private sector effort should we see another surge of evacuees."

Rodriguez calls the coalition the Orlando Response to Disaster in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. It is developing a directory of organizations that can help.

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Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.