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For many Puerto Rico residents, it’s time to leave the island

  • San Juan's airport is packed with people with one-way tickets after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
  • Many people outside the security checkpoint at the San Juan airport were crying, waiting and watching until their loved ones disappeared into the terminal.
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott has urged his state to begin preparing for an influx of people.

San Juan's airport is packed with people, so many of them very old or very young.

I have never seen so many dogs at the airport. It's clear that most of the passengers have a one-way ticket. They simply don't know when — or if — they'll be able to return. So many people outside the checkpoint were crying, waiting and watching until their loved ones disappeared into the terminal.

At the TSA checkpoint, an elderly woman in a wheelchair struggled to hold her dog, a dappled dachshund and the doppelgänger to my own dog, so I offered to help with the dog. The woman said, "I've never flown with her, and I can't find her leash."

Once I cleared TSA, I struck up a conversation with a mom of three who's heading to Monroe, New York, to live with her boyfriend. She is leaving behind her college-age kids and her 13-year-old son.

The woman is in a custody battle with her ex, and the youngest, a brain cancer survivor, wants to stay with his dad. She shrugged as her eyes welled with tears. "I already had my panic attack. What can I do?"

Source: CNBC

Officials have been preparing for a wave of people leaving the territory for the mainland U.S. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has urged his state to begin preparing for an influx of people from Puerto Rico, as well as for the other assistance they need to settle in his state.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello worries about a mass exodus. He knows people are fleeing from a post-Maria landscape, where they are suffering due to crippled infrastructure and a day-to-day struggle to access essentials such as food, water and medicine.

"We can't do anything about that in the short term," he told reporters. Yet, he warned, the exodus could unfold over the longer term unless the island gets a federal aid package commensurate with the damage that can spur recovery. "It will be in the millions," Rossello said.

Puerto Rico is home to 3.4 million people.

WATCH: What a CNBC crew saw in Puerto Rico two weeks after the hurricane