Residents Scramble for Water in Hugo Aftermath With PM-Hugo-US Troops, Bjt
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ By the thousands, residents armed with jugs and buckets scrambled for water in this hurricane-stricken city while authorities opened fire hydrants and delivered water in tank trucks.
Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon said late Wednesday that he feared the prolonged power outage could cause pose a health hazard as residents discard spoiled food in the street in 90-degree heat.
Trash collectors have not worked since before Hurricane Hugo hit Monday.
Power began returning to many San Juan neighborhoods late Wednesday and all power should be restored by today, said Esteban Romero, assistant director of the island’s Electrical Energy Authority.
However, tens of thousands of residents of eastern Puerto Rico will not have water or electricity until early October, he said.
Seventy percent of the Caribbean island, a U.S. commonwealth of 3.3 million, was without water Wednesday. The power authority was working at 40 percent capacity, Romero said.
Hernandez Colon said the government’s priority was to find temporary housing for an estimated 129,000 people whose homes were either destroyed or severely damaged by Hugo.
Coast Guard and National Guard cargo planes were flying food, water and other supplies to the offshore islands of Culebra and Vieques, the hardest hit parts of Puerto Rico, where up to 80 percent of the homes were destroyed.
In Vieques, Gloria Roman, 60, said she watched her wooden house being demolished by Hugo as she sat in a neighbor’s cement house.
″I wanted to cry and scream, but I couldn’t,″ she said.
Her dog, who used to guard the house, sat in front of the ruins.
Mayor Manuela Santiago Collazo said half of Vieques’ 8,000 residents were homeless. She said virtually all the wooden houses were wiped out.
The Red Cross director of disaster services, Scotti McNulty, said from Alexandria, Va., that a team of 50 relief specialists would arrive in Puerto Rico today.
Supplies of bottled water in San Juan supermarkets were dwindling and hundreds of residents drove south across the island to Ponce and west to Arecibo and Mayaguez to stock up on water, ice and gasoline.
People stood in long lines at National Guard tanker trucks filling water buckets, and bathed with soap at open fire hydrants.
″We’ve gone three days without washing,″ said one resident, Olga Perez.
Police spokesman Baltasar Vazquez said there were several cases of looting in San Juan and towns in the northeast. ″These people are taking advantage of the chaos to carry out robberies and assaults,″ he said.
Vazquez said there also were reports of youths stopping motorists to either steal cars or gasoline, ice and other provisions they were carrying.
Hundreds of tourists jammed Munoz Marin International Airport, which reopened Wednesday. Many were turned back because of overbooked flights.
Juan Garcia, director of the Association of Insurance Companies, said insurers expected to receive ″tens of millions of dollars″ in damage claims.
Hernandez Colon said damages to the island would be between $100 million and $200 million.
In Culebra, Mayor Anastasio Soto said: ″There is no way to estimate the damage. We’ve been put back 25 years.″
Conditions were also difficult on islands east of Puerto Rico that Hugo hit hard. On the British island of Montserrat Chief Minister John Osborne said the island had only enough food to last until the end of the week and that rationing might be necessary.
″People are hungry, homeless and don’t know what to do,″ he said.
Officials of the British Virgin Islands reported damage of more than $150 million. The government said more than a third of the private homes were ruined on the island of Tortola.
On Wednesday night, a French helicopter plunged into the Caribbean about half a mile southeast of the outlying island of Desirade as it evacuated an islander who suffered head injuries when Hugo struck, Defense Ministry officials said in Paris.
The body of the islander, Bertrand Berchel, later washed up on a beach, they said. Searchers in a helicopter and fishing boats continued today to look for the eight missing, including Berchel’s son, three medical workers and the twin-engine Puma’s crew of four.
The cause of the accident was unknown. The helicopter had been based in Point-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe, about six miles west of Desirade.