November 9, 2001

Floods in Puerto Rico take out bridges, hundreds homeless

                 VEGA BAJA, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rico's governor declared a state of
                 emergency Friday in areas where floodwaters have swept away bridges,
                 damaged hundreds of homes and forced more than 250 people to stay in
                 emergency shelters.

                 In making the declaration, Gov. Sila Calderon freed $ 5 million from the U.S.
                 territory's emergency fund to help flood victims and farmers who lost coffee,
                 bananas and other crops.

                 The American Red Cross estimated that at least 270 homes were damaged in the
                 flooding. "There are places we haven't been able to get to," said Carmen Canino,
                 executive director of the Red Cross in Puerto Rico.

                 Visiting a school where 54 people took shelter in the north-coast town of Vega
                 Baja, Calderon urged others in low-lying areas to move to higher ground.

                 "I want to call on people who live in flood-prone areas, since the rain hasn't
                 stopped, to take the path of prevention and go to the schools open as shelters," the
                 governor said.

                 Evelyn Rosario, 40, had brought her three daughters and her 10-month-old
                 grandson to the shelter at the Rosa M. Rodriguez Elementary School.

                 "The house hadn't flooded since (Hurricane) Georges," of 1998, Rosario said. "This
                 time the wat er was rising and it reached my knee."

                 With rain sweeping the Caribbean island for a third day Friday, more than 250
                 evacuees were staying in 11 emergency shelters, authorities said.

                 Bridges collapsed in the central town of Naranjito and the southern town of
                 Guayama, said Ileana Rivera, head of the U.S. territory's emergency management

                 At least four bridges collapsed in all, said Jose Encarnacion Izquierdo, secretary of
                 transportation and public works.

                 The U.S. National Weather Service issued flood warnings for areas throughout the
                 island, and Encarnacion said at least 33 sections of highway were closed due to

                 No one was reported seriously injured. But on Thursday, a power post felled by
                 wind crashed into a school bus in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon, police said.
                 Two children suffered minor injuries but did not require hospital treatment.

                 The rains left at least 173,000 homes without potable water Friday, officials said.
                 More than 2,000 homes were without power.

                 Authorities reported about 120 landslides, and rivers throughout the island were
                 flooding their banks.

                 The rains have caused an estimated $ 17 million in damage to banana, coffee and
                 other crops, said Ramon Gonzalez Beiro, president of the island's Farmers

                 Since Wednesday, 18-20 inches (45-50 centimeters) of rain has fallen, officials
                 said. It was still raining on Friday.

                 The downpours, caused by the first cold-front of the season over Puerto Rico,
                 were expected to continue through the weekend.

                  Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.