The Miami Herald
October 5, 1998
`Megabucks' needed for Puerto Rico

             By STEVEN GUTKIN
             Associated Press

             SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- At a shelter in Puerto Rico last week, Hillary
             Rodham Clinton spoke of a $39 million U.S. grant to rebuild hurricane-ravaged

             But two weeks after Hurricane Georges pummeled this U.S. territory, thousands
             still languish in schools, community centers and the homes of family and friends --
             and her pledge looks like a drop in the bucket.

             The cost of getting the homeless into homes will be far greater than virtually anyone
             had imagined, probably well beyond $1 billion. And U.S. taxpayers are sure to
             foot most of the bill.

             ``We're talking megabucks,'' said Michael Colon, the Caribbean coordinator for
             the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

             Estimates changing

             Officials originally estimated overall property damage to the island -- including
             roads, public buildings, parks, beaches -- at $2 billion, a figure now believed to be

             So far, the effort to solve the homeless crisis has been accompanied by confusion.
             Officials still don't know how many homeless there are -- or how to give them

             Aside from killing three people on the island, Georges destroyed nearly 30,000
             houses and damaged at least another 60,000, the local Housing Department
             estimates. Those left homeless can receive up to $25,000 from the Federal
             Emergency Management Agency, as well as $13,500 to buy new appliances and

             Puerto Rico authorities now say the FEMA program, which would allow residents
             to rebuild their wood homes, may be ill-advised because it will leave new homes
             as vulnerable to hurricanes as the old ones.

             Storm-resistant homes

             Gov. Pedro Rosello instead wants federal block grants that, combined with money
             from Puerto Rico's local budget, would subsidize more expensive concrete homes
             located out of harm's way.

             Under his plan, hurricane victims would purchase houses worth $65,000 for
             $15,000, with mortgage payments of about $100 per month.

             ``Even though this has been a disaster for Puerto Rico, we should look at this as
             an opportunity to build something better than what we had before,'' explained
             Puerto Rico's Housing Secretary, Ana Carmen Alemany.

             The plan was presented to Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo when he arrived in
             Puerto Rico last week with Mrs. Clinton.

             ``We are banking on having Secretary Cuomo going back to President Clinton
             and [FEMA director] James Lee Witt and expressing to them support for this
             program,'' Alemany said.

             In the meantime, 15,000 Puerto Rican hurricane victims remain holed up in
             shelters. More are staying with friends and relatives, though no one knows exactly
             how many.

             Immediate needs

             Concrete decisions on solving their long-term plight have taken a back seat to the
             immediate need to restore water and electricity and provide temporary shelter.

             ``As of now, there is no program yet,'' admitted Bessie Figueroa, the Puerto Rico
             Housing Department's liaison to FEMA.

             Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is crisscrossing the island to
             replace damaged roofs. The island's Housing Department is providing $1,000
             vouchers to purchase building materials. The city of San Juan is handing out $500
             checks for groceries.

             ``We can't wait for the federal government,'' San Juan Mayor Sila Calderon said.


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