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
But ask any resident to identify the worst part and they'll tell you: Parched
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
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.
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
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,
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
whoever needs it the most.
``The bathroom is difficult. We have to empty the toilets with pails of
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.
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
to receive an emergency aid check from the government collapsed and later died,
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
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
just for certain people,'' said Cortes, her voice trembling with rage. ``We're human
Information from the Associated Press supplemented this report.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald