Man captures 18-hour journey from Cuba to US on cellphone

Took about 2 months to build makeshift raft

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent, Paradise Afshar - Digital Editor

MIAMI - He'd spent 18 hours on a makeshift raft from Cuba, he was tired, hungry, and in need of fresh water – but the moment Silvio Moreno saw Florida, that all changed.

The 29-year-old quickly pulled out his smart phone and hit the record button. It was a moment he didn't want to forget.

"I think I am still sleeping," Moreno said in Spanish, adding that reaching the United States felt like a dream.

Moreno and his father were two of 21 people who left Mariel, Cuba, on April 1 on a light blue makeshift raft called the Emanuel. The words dios con nosotros, which translates to "God is with us," were written on the side of the raft. 

After almost a day out at sea the group landed in Marquesa Key, an uninhabited group of islands 20 miles off the coast of Key West. 

They made the trip by using GPS on a cellphone. 

 "Look, we're 300 or 400 meters from shore," someone is heard saying in the cellphone video. 

Passengers smiled and cheered as the shoreline becomes apparent. Some put their hands in the air, and one person, wearing American flag sunglasses, threw up a peace sign. 

When they get close enough, the group left the raft and walked to shore, with their belongings in their hands. 

Once on shore they hugged, they jumped around and one man knelt on the sand -- thankful he'd made it.

"Everyone was crazy happy," Moreno said in Spanish. "You can't explain that."

Cuban migrants have long made similar trips to the United States, taking advantage of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which permits any Cuban national a path to citizenship upon reaching U.S. soil.

In the past three months of 2016, the number of Cuban migrants coming to the U.S. by foot and sea has doubled. It's believed that the spike in numbers is fueled by the restoration of U.S.-Cuban relations.

The exodus has been driven in part by Cubans' fears they could lose privileges that now let them stay in the United States if they reach American soil.

Department of Homeland Security figures show about 17,000 Cubans reached the U.S. from October through December. Slightly more than 9,000 Cuban migrants arrived during the same months in 2014.

The journey to the U.S. isn't an easy one.

For Moreno's group, it took two months to buy the materials needed to make their raft. This included getting pieces of wood, pine trees and screws.

The group spent two days assembling the raft, and since they had to assembled the raft in secrecy, they hid away in the woods.

They didn't have a boat engine, so they used one from a truck.

In Moreno's cellphone video, passengers are shown pouring water onto the engine, which overheated while at sea. 

"The engine turned off about two times," Moreno said in Spanish.

Moreno sad that the group's "will for a better life" and faith in God helped them stay motivated during their journey. 

One of the 21 who arrived as part of this group was a member of the Cuban government's police force.

Among the rest, some have reunited with family in South Florida, and others are planning to head to California to start a new life.

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