Magazine article American Libraries

Hurricane Maria: The Aftermath: Caribbean Libraries Sustain Catastrophic Damage

Magazine article American Libraries

Hurricane Maria: The Aftermath: Caribbean Libraries Sustain Catastrophic Damage

Article excerpt

Hurricane Maria, the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, causing widespread flooding and damage to infrastructure. More than 50 days later, some 2 million residents (59%) lacked power and 750,000 (22%) had no tap water. Fatalities stood at 55 for the island (Associated Press, November 8), with an expectation that the number would rise as recovery continued. More than 2,000 residents were still living in shelters at the beginning of November, and tens of thousands lacked roofs on their homes, according to Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

About 40% of the electrical grid has been rebuilt, but a massive outage in the capital of San Juan on November 9 signaled a fragile recovery. More than 140,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island since the storm, United Nations human rights experts are sounding alarms about food shortages during the winter, and mold has become rampant throughout the island. However, telecom services were improving, commercial flights were back to normal, and the majority of supermarkets and gas stations were back in business.

Puerto Rican libraries

Out of these tragic statistics, only a few library stories have emerged. American Library Association (ALA) President-Elect Loida Garcia-Febo, who was born in Puerto Rico, told American Libraries that "all types of libraries are basically destroyed. The buildings are standing but infested with mold, rotten carpets, and collections that are irretrievably lost. Archives, historical documents, and books are all in dire condition because of the lack of electrical power."

All of the University of Puerto Rico's (UPR) 11 campuses suffered infrastructure damages, but the hardest hit were those at Bayamon, Cayey, Humacao, and Rio Piedras.

Evelyn Milagros Rodriguez, research, reference, and special collections librarian at UPR Humacao, wrote about her experience for the nonprofit Conversation website on October 26. The library was the hardest hit of all the buildings on that campus, she says. "It's mold-infested and the roof is leaking, so there's a lot of work to be done in both repairs and cleaning before students can use it. The mold has gotten into our collection--from books and papers to magazines--and most of the furniture and computers will have to be repaired." Some repairs took place, and the campus reopened on October 30.

The library staff at the Bayamon campus were able to reenter the library on October 5. Librarian Myrna Lee Torres-Perez says the experience was "overwhelming, with everything full of mold, rotten carpets. We lost collections." Classes also resumed on October 30, and the library is at least partially open. The main library at Rio Piedras incurred some damages, as well as the law library, which had a lot of water damage. Libraries at the Cayey and Mayaguez campuses were also affected. All UPR campuses have now reopened for classes.

In San Juan, the conditions at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico were perhaps typical of libraries that had less damage. Director Milka Vigo wrote on October 13 that "water poured over the acoustic ceiling near the service counter, soaking about 50 books, of which 31 were discarded because they were filled with mold. Another portion of the ceiling gave way above one of the aisles. …

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