Three Months After

Three Months After

Editorial Byline: "Puerto Rico Greets the New Year with Hope and Frustration"

SAN JUAN. December 29, 1998. According to the government, Puerto Rico is well on its way to recovering from the damages received when Hurricane Georges passed over the island more than three months ago. Many islanders tell a different story. Authorities declare that water and electrical services, even in remote parts of the island, have been restored. All roads are once again passable, with the exception of several in the interior mountains where bridges were swept away. However, residents in a number of isolated communities angrily deny the water company’s claims, and motorists, particularly tourists, continue to complain about a lack of road signs at major intersections and highway exits throughout the island.

Tourism Down
In tourism developments, owners of several small hotels along the coast are asking for government help because the beaches where they are located remain eroded. They are seeing a decrease in tourism this season as a result. Behind the scenes, workers at El Conquistador Resort have been working – furiously and quietly – to repair Las Casitas’ cliffside homes, badly damaged during Hurricane Georges. Resort officials say they anticipate an excellent 1998-99 tourist season. Visiting hikers in El Yunque are disappointed to learn that several trails remain closed because of the dozens of mudslides that moved tons of soil and vegetation down the mountainsides and across the trails.

Exports Suffer
Bananas and plantains are in short supply on the island, to the dismay of health-minded mothers and the delight of some children. Distributors have had to import fruit from the Dominican Republic, which was not as severely affected by Hurricane Georges. Many poultry owners have gone into bankruptcy, and small, white eggs (reportedly frozen in transport) have been imported from the United States. Although the government aid comes slowly, many homeowners are seen replacing shattered windows and repairing roofs. Hundreds of people without homes remain in shelters. The dengue epidemic officials feared has not materialized, although doctors are reporting an increase in the number of cases.

Closed Roads Create Long Commutes
Last week’s rains caused a mudslide in the mountains near Jayuya that resulted in the indefinite closing of a local road. Irate residents, who now must drive an extra half hour on winding lanes to reach town, blame the Department of Transportation and Public Works for not shoring up the steep embankment on the road’s north side as they have repeatedly asked the department to do in the past. Department officials counter that the soil in this region became unstable after Hurricane Georges dumped record amounts of rain. They claim they cannot be responsible for acts of nature. Motorists are urged to be patient.

Forest Inhabitants Survive
The forests have made an impressive comeback. Three months ago they looked grey and exposed. Once again they are awash in green. Scientists explain what has happened. After the hurricane leaf litter and other materials began to decompose, the sunlight was able to reach the forest floor. The floor became much like the upper canopy in the amount of sun it received. Temperatures rose and humidity fell. These changes meant certain death for shade-and humidity-loving plants but abundant life for light-hungry plants. Although roads and trails have yet to be repaired, the forests themselves are well on their way to recovery. In the same way, some animals have died because of the drier conditions and diminished food supply, while others have flourished.

Scientists were especially worried about the bird community. Of the birds that survived the high winds and rains of the hurricane – and most of them did – the birds that eat fruits have suffered more and recovered more slowly than birds that eat insects. This is because most fruits were stripped from the plants by the hurricane, and it takes time for them to replenish. Meanwhile, many insects multiplied rapidly after the storm.