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Puerto Rico Without Power, Water

September 24, 1998

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Hurricane Georges left hundreds of Puerto Ricans homeless, their possessions swept away by raging waters or wind. For those more fortunate, the storm still brought inconvenience and indignity.

With the exception of a few buildings with generators, almost all 3.8 million people in this U.S. territory remained without electricity on Thursday _ meaning, among other things, no cash from teller machines, or air conditioning to fight the heat.

The state power company said electrical outages could last months. Other officials said much of the power will be back by the weekend _ setting off a national guessing game about where the current would be turned on first.

About three quarters of Puerto Rico remained without water, too. People made do without showers, toilets backed up. Officials set up 70 water centers, and long, sometimes unruly lines formed. Taps were even running dry in hotels with cisterns.

``I feel miserable,″ said Ivelisse Marques, a 48-year-old mother of three in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon.

``Without air conditioning or fans, it’s intolerable,″ she said. ``You have the kids saying, ’I’m bored, when are you going to cook, there’s no TV, buy a generator!‴

Gov. Pedro Rossello met Thursday with U.S. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Small Business Administration chief Aida Alvarez to review damage, estimated at $2 billion or more.

Cuomo announced up to $39 million in emergency grants to repair damage to public housing. And the Clinton administration also said it will allow Puerto Rico to use more than $300 million previously allocated for disaster relief and public housing repairs, as well as other federal aid.

At least 55 percent of the island’s coffee crop and 90 percent of the banana crop was lost when Georges struck Monday, said agriculture chief Miguel Munoz.

Highways sustained $20 million in damage. Access to the northern city of Arecibo was temporarily cut off because of flooding. In San Juan, roads were jammed as drivers negotiated fallen trees and power poles and blue-uniformed police directed traffic.

On Thursday some postal service resumed.

At least three people died directly from the storm, and others died of heart attacks. About 28,500 people were living in 361 shelters _ many of them in public schools.

Maria Ortiz Torres, chief of the meals program at a Humacao school-turned-shelter, supervised 20 people making breakfast, lunch and dinner. She also lived there, having lost her home.

``I know what it’s like to arrive at home and find nothing to cook with, nowhere to sleep, nothing to wear,″ she said, to applause from her workers.

In the nearby U.S. Virgin Islands, there was relief that Georges had caused relatively minor damage _ especially compared to Hurricanes Hugo in 1989 and Marilyn in 1995.

The majority of the damage on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John was to landscape: downed trees, power and telephone lines and stoplights.

Most of the 800 people who reported to shelters before the storm had returned home by Thursday.

Gov. Roy L. Schneider credited stricter building codes, hurricane shutters and buried phone and power lines with his islands’ good fortune.

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