Mesa now home to Puerto Rican family who lost everything in Hurricane Maria

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The Diaz-Molina family with Pastor Freddy Pabon and our Nicole Crites (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Diaz-Molina family with Pastor Freddy Pabon and our Nicole Crites (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Thanks to relatives in Mesa, the Diaz-Molina family wound up nearly 3,000 miles away from Trujillo Alto, a suburb of downtown San Juan on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Thanks to relatives in Mesa, the Diaz-Molina family wound up nearly 3,000 miles away from Trujillo Alto, a suburb of downtown San Juan on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
'It’s a third-world country, reduced to nothing. We just had a lot of stuff that looked very American but we didn’t have the infrastructure,' Pastor Freddy Pabon said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) 'It’s a third-world country, reduced to nothing. We just had a lot of stuff that looked very American but we didn’t have the infrastructure,' Pastor Freddy Pabon said. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS5) (Source: 3TV/CBS5)
Pictures and video of the destruction and devastation coming back from the island showed streets tangled in downed power lines, homes missing walls and roofs, families scrawling out desperate pleas like 'HELP' on their rooftops. (Source: 3TV/CBS5) Pictures and video of the destruction and devastation coming back from the island showed streets tangled in downed power lines, homes missing walls and roofs, families scrawling out desperate pleas like 'HELP' on their rooftops. (Source: 3TV/CBS5)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

A family of four from Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricane Maria three months ago this week is finding a new beginning here in Arizona.

For the families they leave behind on the island, help just isn't coming fast enough.

Officials have ordered a full recount of the storm’s impact on human lives and are now saying the death toll is far worse than first reported. 

[RELATED: Puerto Rico's uncounted hurricane deaths]

And still, some of the most basic needs are not being met for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens there who are leaving by the hundreds of thousands to start over in the U.S. There are reportedly 250,000 Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Florida alone.

Some have come all the way across the country to start over. The Diaz-Molina family, now living here in Arizona, are among them.

[WATCH: Hurricane Maria survivors transition to the Phoenix area]

Ricky and Glenda Diaz-Molina say they had been through Hurricane Irma and other monster storms over the years but were simply not prepared for the day Maria made its crushing landfall turning their world and contents of their home upside down.

“It felt like an earthquake,” Glenda said.

The couple waited out the storm in the basement of their two story-house with their two children, Gabriel and Daniela.

"You feel the wind hitting your house something like 175 miles an hour. And the doors, the windows, you feel the pressure. You put your hands on them and you feel the pressure,” Ricky said. “That was unbelievable."

When the hurricane passed, they emerged to utter devastation.

[RELATED: Experts: Puerto Rico may struggle for more than a decade]

“Everything was a mess,” Ricky said. “Everything you've got inside your house, you lose.”

It was worse than they could have imagined.

Everything was broken. Everything was wet.

"Half a foot of water inside your home, the windows were all broken," Ricky said.

There were piles of debris everywhere --  inside and outside.

"We couldn’t get out of our house for like two days," Daniela said.

"We went around to neighbors and asked if they were OK, she continued. “They were as scared as we were! It was just dark! It was just terrible."

[RELATED: Man flees to Phoenix amid the hurricane aftermath in Puerto Rico]

[RELATED: What Maria washed away: Puerto Ricans resettle in Arizona]

Pictures and video of the destruction and devastation coming back from the island showed streets tangled in downed power lines, homes missing walls and roofs, families scrawling out desperate pleas like “HELP” on their rooftops. While shocking, those images still cannot capture the widespread scope of the need.

"The problem is bigger than you think," Gabriel said.

People don’t even know what to do, what to say, what to think.

It’s one thing to go hours -- even days -- without electricity, water and plumbing. When that stretches into weeks and months, it is not sustainable.

“People were dying because they didn’t have food – starving,” Ricky said. “It’s crazy. And as American citizens, don’t forget.”

He also lost an uncle who was already ill and was on breathing machines that lost power along with the rest of the island.

After two weeks of being unable to get any gas or withdraw cash from the bank, Ricky realized just how dire it really was.

"We have no job. We have no money,” he said. “We only had food for two weeks.”

Glenda's brother called to see if the family needed help and offered to let the family move into their small apartment in the East Valley.

That’s how they wound up nearly 3,000 miles away from Trujillo Alto, a suburb of downtown San Juan on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico. Here in Mesa, they’re starting over with nothing but family and faith.

"Not all people would do that because it's a whole family," Glenda laughed, admitting it's hard on everyone's privacy.

"Be grateful! The material is material. The most important is life -- our lives,” she continued. “Be grateful and thank God for everything we have.”

And that humble foundation has been an inspiration to everyone they meet.

"It's definitely an inspiration to really focus on the right things!" said Pastor Freddy Pabon.

He met the Diaz-Molina family at Hillsong Church where they volunteer every week.

"I still have friends that are unaccounted for," Pabon said.

He also grew up in Puerto Rico and has a sister who just moved here to the Valley to start over, too.

[RELATED: Puerto Rico devastated, Phoenix restaurant steps up to help]

"People don’t even know what to do, what to say, what to think," Pabon said.

The problem is bigger than you think.

It's been heartbreaking, seeing what Maria did to his Caribbean island paradise.

"It’s a third-world country, reduced to nothing," he said. "We just had a lot of stuff that looked very American but we didn’t have the infrastructure. So it's more than just getting help like Houston or Florida. It's so much more than that."

"The people who are still in Puerto Rico are still dying," Ricky said.

[RELATED: Anger grows as Puerto Rico misses power restoration deadline]

And while many Puerto Ricans feel betrayed, frustrated and disappointed in America right now – especially with a recent poll showing 50 percent of Americans don't even realize Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens -- Ricky says it's not worth wasting any time feeling sad or angry.

"Sometimes it’s a feeling of, 'Oh my God, Why?' But you take it one day at a time,” he said. “You keep going forward! Be strong!"

He lost his job in radio. Glenda, a teaching assistant, lost hers, as well.

"We came from zero. Zero!" Ricky said.

Here, they’ve been able to get a fresh start, getting the kids enrolled in school and both finding work at a Valley shelter for immigrant families. They even got approved to buy a brand-new car.

They say the secret is staying positive.

"It’s the only way!“ Rickey said. “It’s the only way.”

"It's the faith,” Glenda added. “The love of God, and the love of family.”

We think of home as a structure, but right now my family is my home!

They say they don’t think they’ll ever go back to Puerto Rico.

Instead, they'll do their best to embrace this new beginning so they can help others who are still struggling back home.

"We are not defined by what we have. We are defined by what we give," Pabon said,

And without question, the Diaz- Molina family gives perspective on how they weathered the storm that wiped out their island but built up their faith.

It’s a truly priceless reminder to all of us to take nothing for granted.

"We think of home as a structure, but right now my family is my home! My wife. My kids,” Ricky said. “My home, that’s my family.”

Since our interview, the family has moved into a home of its own, and while they are finding success, there are still so many Puerto Rican families that need help as they wait for more federal aid.

Resources to help U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico impacted by Hurricane Maria


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Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

Click to learn more about Nicole.

Nicole Crites

The two- time Emmy award winner has been telling stories about Valley newsmakers and trends for more than a decade. Before joining 3TV's "Good Evening Arizona" team, she was the morning news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Nicole loves meeting new people every day and finding ways to bring context to news unfolding in our community and our world.

A wife and mother of two little ones, Nicole is always exploring Arizona to uncover exciting adventures to share. She grew up in a big family, one of six kids in Tucson.

She graduated from the University of Arizona. Work and early internships took her from Manhattan to Spokane, WA, back to Arizona, where she and her high school sweetheart settled to start a family.

Nicole loves to read and keep busy with community service and crafts, like quilting baby blankets, something her mom taught her in elementary school.  

Nicole's passion for storytelling and helping others is why she got into journalism.

She won an Emmy for her field anchoring of the deadly Tucson shooting and assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and another for her KPHO "Keeping the Promise" series on military struggles and success profiles.

She is an active board member for the nonprofit, Military Assistance Mission, supporting our Arizona military, their families and wounded warriors.

She believes everyone has a story and says the most interesting people she has interviewed weren't the actors or politicians who've been guests on the show over the years, but the "ordinary" people you'd never guess have overcome extreme odds and are doing extraordinary things every day

If you have a story you’d like to share with Nicole, click here to email her.

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