Family displaced by Hurricane Maria grateful to celebrate Christmas in Rochester


Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - Before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September, Gilbert Santiago had no idea six family members from the island would be joining him for Christmas, let alone becoming full-time members of his home.

For Santiago, it made for a memorable Christmas.

"It's been amazing- I get to share it with sisters I never shared it with before," said Santiago.

Santiago's two sisters and their four kids moved into Santiago's home in November. He says the adjustment was tough on some his family.

"It's been very interesting- very easy for me- for them, it's been rocky," said Santiago. "But they are getting used to it, they are adapting quick, faster than I thought they would."

Part of that adjustment is getting used to a Rochester winter.

"It's been tough, because here it snows a lot. As far as climate is concerned, we've been getting adjusted," said Evelyn Vega, Santiago's sister. "We put a lot of layers on and make the best of it. But it's way better than the life we had over there."

Vega and her children spent another two months in Puerto Rico after the hurricane hit. She said conditions there hardly improved, with there still be little access to food, water, and electricity.

It's helped to make them even more thankful to be celebrating Christmas in a warm home, with more family than usual around for the holiday.

"We had a really nice time, we had the whole family together, it's been the best Christmas of my life," said Vega.

Vega is also happy she's now employed. After the hurricane hit, she was no longer employed, and she said there was little chance of finding any work on the island.

Her kids and grandchildren are also enrolled in schools here. The hurricane knocked out schools all over, including theirs.

Vega's 18-year-old son, Joshua Rosario, is glad he decided to move with his family to Rochester. He's set to be enrolled at the University of Rochester next spring.

On Monday, he, like his family members, were caught up in the overwhelming feeling brought on by celebrating their Christmas somewhere other than Puerto Rico, where other family members and memories still reside.

"Christmas this year has been really different, something I haven't really experienced before- experienced with a lot of people or a lot of family," said Rosario.

"It's been something out of this world."

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