The Miami Herald
September 26, 1998
Puerto Rico must wait for water, power: `We will suffer until then'

             By ALLISON KLEIN
             Herald Staff Writer

             BARRIO PLANA, Puerto Rico -- This island is struggling to restore essential
             services and repair massive damage four days after Hurricane Georges barreled

             Stores are toppled. Houses have mangled and missing roofs. Fallen trees still
             block thoroughfares.

             But ask any resident to identify the worst part and they'll tell you: Parched faucets
             and useless electric plugs.

             ``We scream and we cry and we ask God to take care of us,'' said Eva Lopez,
             69, who lives in this remote town by Lake Guajataca, in western Puerto Rico.
             ``We can't start repairing anything until we get our water and electricity back. They
             say it will be two months or more. We will suffer until then.''

             Puerto Rico's electric power authority had restored service to only 7 percent of its
             customers by Friday, four days since the storm lashed the island.

             The water authority said more than 60 percent of its customers were without
             running water Friday. Long lines formed under the hot sun as people waited to fill
             jugs with water from the 113 tanker trucks dispatched by the government.

             ``The immediate need is in the area of restoring the water and electricity. That is
             job one,'' said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, head
             of the delegation sent by President Clinton, as he prepared to return Friday to

             Lopez and 10 members of her family were bathing and collecting water in buckets
             from a mountain stream of Lake Guajataca.

             The main source of income for the family was her brother's small chicken
             restaurant and takeout, Pollo Asado. The storm tore it apart.

             ``We are poor and we spent 18 years building that restaurant,'' said Margareta
             Bareto, whose husband owns Pollo Asado. ``We woke up in the morning and it
             was gone. Now we can only look at it until we get water and electricity back.''

             Her brother Miguel Medina Mercado, 60, a police commander in the western
             coastal town of Aguadilla, has lived in Barrio Plana for 50 years. For him, the
             worst part of being without electricity is trying to find a place to refrigerate insulin
             vials for his 9-year-old diabetic daughter.

             ``There's no refrigeration and no ice. It has to stay cold or she can't inject it,'' he
             said. ``Now I'm keeping it at a friend's store, but I wonder how long his generator
             will keep going.''

             Bags of ice are available at a factory 10 miles south in San Sebastian, Mercado
             said, but lines at the factory stretch to 6,000 people. Only 100 hot and lucky
             people a day get tickets allowing them to buy bags.

             Mercado's family gathers water from lakes and streams and disperses it to
             whoever needs it the most.

             ``The bathroom is difficult. We have to empty the toilets with pails of water and
             replenish them,'' Lopez said. ``It's hard to keep things clean. I've been washing
             clothes by hand and have blisters covering my fingers.''

             But she tries to keep her perspective about what's important in life.

             ``The storm was very strong. We're lucky to have our lives,'' she said. ``When
             God wants, we'll get our water and our electricity back.''

             In the eastern town of San Lorenzo, a 67-year-old woman waiting in line Thursday
             to receive an emergency aid check from the government collapsed and later died,
             police said.

             The last time a hurricane swamped her home, meanwhile, Wanda Cortes got
             $1,200 in government aid and built a new one with plywood last year in a squatter
             community in the northern city of Toa Baja.

             But after Georges wrecked her home Monday, Cortes learned she would have to
             pay for her own repairs. Municipal officials told the 34-year-old maid she didn't
             qualify for federal aid because the squatter community was illegal.

             ``When (President) Clinton sends the aid, it's for the people of Puerto Rico, not
             just for certain people,'' said Cortes, her voice trembling with rage. ``We're human
             beings, too.''

             Information from the Associated Press supplemented this report.


                               Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald