Georges Hits Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico Faces Widespread Destruction
SAN JUAN. September 29, 1998. One week ago today Hurricane Georges
passed over the island of Puerto Rico. Officials are still trying
to assess the damage caused on the island by this Category 3 hurricane.
Although it did not directly cause any deaths, several deaths
have been linked indirectly to the storm, deaths caused by heart
attacks, electrocution while reinstalling electrical cables, and
Puerto Rico has suffered badly from the hurricane.
Some 80 percent of the island population has lost water and
electricity, and authorities cannot estimate when these services
will be restored. Half of the electrical poles and cables are
down, and freshwater pumping stations are clogged with mud and
debris. Up to 30,000 homes were torn apart or washed away during
the storm, and an additional 70,000 homes have been damage.
Wooden homes with metal roofs were particularly hard hit. Even
the upscale Las Casitas development perched on the cliffs at
the east coast El Conquistador Resort was rumored to have suffered
extensive damage. However, no official at the resort has been
willing to comment. At present, some 400 shelters are housing
The good news is that San Juan, home to half
of the island's population, lay 32 km to the north of the eye
and was spared the brunt of the storm. Airport gauges measured
sustained winds at a relatively weak 126.5 kph, with peak gusts
at 149 kph, and an atmospheric pressure reading of 979.7 mb.
The capital also received relatively light rainfall, only 133.6
Jayuya Badly Battered
The areas hardest hit were the east coast region, where Georges
entered, and the central mountains, particularly around the
town of Jayuya. Storm surges reached 3 meters at Fajardo on
the northeast coast, causing severe damage to coastal property.
In Humacao, winds were clocked at 184 km per hour, and a tornado
Sustained winds in the central mountains remained
under 160 kph, with gusts up to 208 kph (two possible tornadoes
were also detected), but rainfall was severe. The hardest hit
area received more than 6096 mm, of rain! Lake Guineo rose 62.5
cm. At one point all island rivers, most of which start in the
central mountains, were reported to have risen above their banks.
Homes located along the riverbanks were swept away, and the
rains and the landslides dislodged homes perched on steep hillsides.
Most rural roads are now impassable, either damaged by flooding
or blocked by fallen trees. Road signs have been twisted by
the winds, and several bridges have collapsed. Farmers have
suffered greatly: 75 percent of their coffee crops, 95 percent
of the bananas and plantains, and 65 percent of the live poultry
have been destroyed. Amazingly, the radio telescope at Arecibo
Observatory, an 800 ton platform and dome hanging by 18 cables
120 meters above the ground, found itself on the edge of the
hurricane's eye, but suffered no major damage.
Puerto Rico's Natural Resources
Within the island's forests, severe winds caused many trees
to lose their branches and all of their leaves. Parts of the
forests look as if they have suffered from fire, not rain. The
Espíritu Santo River, near Río Grande in the Luquillo Mountains,
rose 4 meters. Some trees, primarily those with weak root systems,
were uprooted. Mudslides, particularly on steep slopes, have
wiped out entire forest niches. Incredible amounts of leaf litter
lie where plants once grew on the forest floor, and entire river
aquatic communities have been swept out to sea. Research scientists
are combing the forests to learn the effects of the hurricane
on the resident animal populations, particularly birds, which
they fear have been hardest hit.
Beach erosion has been severe along much of
the island's coastline. In western Puerto Rico the eroded beaches
caused roadways to be washed out to sea, and several coastal
communities remain cut off from the rest of the island. According
to the U.S. Geological Survey, several rivers set new all-time
discharge records. The force of this discharge carved many new
channels and eroded parts of the coastal flood plains. Many
low-lying areas remain covered by standing water, and epidemiologists
fear a rise in dengue, a serious flu-like illness carried by
Authorities predict that the total damage
in Puerto Rico will climb to more than $2 billion. The Federal
Emergency Management Agency has stepped in to help.
- What were the effects of Hurricane Georges on the biosphere? What effects of the hurricane on the lithosphere
also affected the biosphere?
- _________ is a flu-like illness carried by mosquitoes. Why is this considered a possible danger after hurricanes?
- Describe one interaction between the lithosphere and the hydrosphere that occurred as a result of Hurricane Georges.