Flash flooding hits Puerto Rico

BY PJ HELLER | SAN JUAN, PR | May 9, 2001

One person who lived in Baltimore for 60 years said it was the worst tidal surge he\'d seen. (DNN photo by Susan Kim)
Credit: Disaster News Network

Damage tallies are growing in Puerto Rico as emergency crews gain access to communities blocked by floodwaters and mudslides.

Preliminary reports from emergency management officials indicate some 800 homes received major damage, 42 were destroyed, and 232 have minor damage. "Many communities are still blocked," said Joann Hale, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource facilitator.

Two people died in the storm.

Gov. Sila Calderon reported that there was at least $146 million in damages, mostly in the south and west regions of the country. "That's got to be a lot because those aren't million dollar homes," said Hale. As rains are expected to continue through the weekend, more flooding will probably take place, and flash flood warnings and high surf warnings continued Thursday. It was still difficult to fly into affected areas on Thursday.

Hale has been in contact with local pastors who are coordinating local response. CWS has been training clergy in Puerto Rico to respond to long-term disaster-related needs since Hurricane Georges struck in September 1998.

Representatives from Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster are contacting churches in the hardest-hit areas, said Hale.

Gov. Calderson has asked President George W. Bush to declare Puerto Rico a federal disaster area.

"If I went to summarize in a single word what I have seen with my eyes today, it would only say one thing: devastation," said Gov. Calderon. After touring some of the affected areas, she said the devastation was greater than she had thought.

Calderon declared a state of emergency for 22 towns -- 13 of them in the southwest -- freeing up to $12 million to aid in the disaster relief.

Nearly 200 people sought refuge in emergency shelters which remained open Tuesday night in rural southwestern communities. Agricultural damage was expected to be extensive, with some officials reporting that entire harvests had been lost due to flooding and mudslides.

The Puerto Rican Farmers Association estimated initial losses of $7.5 million to crops and cattle. Businesses and schools were also hard hit by the flooding. One elementary school reported losing $70,000 in computer equipment it had recently purchased.

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