TONAWANDA, N.Y. — A new local resident is among those displaced from Hurricane Maria starting fresh here in Western New York, and this Thanksgiving, Brandon Silvers is thankful for the strangers who helped him prepare for a new life in New York.
Silvers, born and raised in Puerto Rico, lost everything he owned.
"The whole way there, it was like a nuclear bomb passed through,” Silvers said, recalling when it was finally safe to leave his grandparents’ house to go check on his own.
When it was all over, he had to navigate through downed cables, snapped trees, and destroyed neighborhoods to get there.
"What we saw has changed us. We didn't expect it, but the river that we have by our house came inside our house five feet,” he said.
His family lost everything: appliances, furniture, valuables and clothes.
Silvers' girlfriend had family in Buffalo, and soon after the hurricane, the couple started planning to move.
They struggled to get a flight. When they finally did, it took four hours to get to the island’s only operational airport; another two hours to print a boarding pass.
"It's chaos to leave the island right now. It's so hard,” Silvers said.
One hundred thousand people, he said, have all been trying to leave the island at once.
Throughout all this, he solicited advice from the social website Reddit.
"What I posted was, ‘Help. What do I buy?’ Because I've never been in weather below 60 degrees,” Silvers said.
He's received countless responses. Some are simply advice, others go as far as offering to send him necessities.
"’Hey man I have some clothes. You just need to give me an address, and I'll ship it right to you,’” he said describing the messages he got.
He has since received care packages from throughout the country, including some that came from good neighbors right here in Buffalo.
"Strangers decided to help me, and it brings so much warmth to my heart,” he said.
Thursday, Silvers celebrated his first Thanksgiving in Western New York with his girlfriend and her relatives.
"I'm thankful that none of my family got hurt in the hurricane. I'm thankful that we made it out okay to Buffalo. I'm thankful for the strangers that tried to help. I'm thankful to God, he has always helped me,” Silvers said. “I'm thankful for everything that will happen in the future. I know...I know that I have a bright future here in America.”
Silvers has been in Western New York for about two weeks. The accountant said he’s been using that time to get settled in an apartment, look for a car, and apply for jobs.