BOSTON — Hundreds of Puerto Rican hurricane evacuee families living in hotels across the U.S. can stay there for at least three more weeks, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman in Massachusetts granted an extension of a restraining order temporarily blocking the evictions of the evacuees displaced by Hurricane Maria last September. The restraining order will last until at least midnight July 23, allowing the evacuees to stay until checkout time the following day.
The evacuees are living in hotels as part of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, but their housing was supposed to end last Sunday. On the eve of the program's expiration, a different federal judge provided the evacuees temporarily relief.
There were about 1,700 families living in hotels Saturday, but the number was about 950 on Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
FEMA said in a statement Tuesday that it will comply with the order and notify hotels that the program has been extended, but declined further comment.
JayKarey Skerritt, who has been living in a Florida hotel since November, said she was grateful for the extension but didn't know if it would be enough time for her to find a more permanent place.
"I'm hoping to find something very small, even if it's just for a short time," said Skerritt, who's living with her partner and thee boys in a Ramada hotel in Kissimmee. Skerritt said she first needed to find a job before she could look for housing.
When asked what her plan was, she shook her head and said in Spanish, "I don't know but I have hope."
Hillman said he wants to look into the matter further and asked both sides to file additional documents in the case.
"The judge has ruled that at least they should have the chance to make their case in court before being tossed onto the street," Hector Pineiro, one of the attorneys who brought the case on behalf of the Puerto Ricans, said in a statement. "For that we are grateful."