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Puerto Rico in the Great Depression

Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico 1933. (Excerpts)
James R. Beverley

Excerpts from the Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico (1933). Hurricane of 1932 (p. 1-6), Statistics from the Hurricane (p. 157), and Table of Agricultural Losses (p. 158-159)

Publishing Information

    Thirty-Third Annual Report of the Governor of Puerto Rico

    Hon. James R. Beverly
    La Fortaleza,
    San Juan, Puerto Rico, July 1, 1933.

    To the Honorable the Secretary of War,
    Washington, D. C.

    Sir:

    Pursuant to law, I have the honor to submit herewith the report of the Governor of Puerto Rico for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1933.

    The writer ceased in office July 1st, 1933, being succeeded by the Honorable Robert H. Gore; but since the period covered by this report fell wholly within the writer's administration, this report is being presented by time undersigned, at. the request of tile Bureau of Insular Affairs as of July 1, 1933.

    Hurricane of 1932

    The most important event during the year under consideration, from the standpoint of the welfare of the People of Puerto Rico was the terrific hurricane which ripped its way across the northern half of the Island during the night of September 26-27, 1932, laying waste approximately one-half of the Island. This hurricane is known locally as "San Ciprián", from the saint's day upon which it occurred; and while the area covered was not so wide as that covered by the hurricane of September 13, 1928, nor was the estimated wind velocity as high, nevertheless the damage done in the area covered was much more severe than in 1928. The center of the storm entered Puerto Rico between Ceiba and Fajardo and passed in a generally western direction veering slightly north and left the Island somewhere between Dorado and Arecibo, and then continued practically along the coast of the Island past Aguadilla.

    Warnings of the approach of the storm were received early on the morning of September 26, and all mayors of municipalities and police stations throughout the Island were notified at once in order that preliminary arrangements might he made to safeguard lives and property. A further warning was sent to all police stations and municipalities at four o'clock in the afternoon. At the beginning of the hurricane season the Governor had instructed the mayors to organize emergency committees in each municipality, and to give wide publicity to a plan whereby official information from the Governor's office as to any hurricane warnings would be communicated to the people by signal flags to be flown from the Cathedral and City Hall in each town. This plan functioned perfectly. I believe it is safe to say that every inhabitant of the Island knew of the hurricane's approach before noon; certainly no one was caught without ample time to make adequate preparations.

    During the day, the Governor called a meeting of the Chief of Insular Police, the Adjutant General of the National Guard, the Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of the Interior, the President of the Senate, the Manager of the Puerto Rican Chapter of the American Red Cross, and a few other prominent citizens, to take preliminary steps for handling any situation which might arise. The National Guard was instructed to be in readiness, the Commissioner of the Interior was directed to mobilize road overseers and workmen in order to reestablish communications immediately after the passage of the storm, and the police were given instructions to centralize people in the strongest buildings wherever it was thought necessary. The headquarters for all activities were maintained in the Governor's office.

    By 11 o'clock at night telephone and telegraph communication to San Juan from the eastern end of the Island was out entirely and the storm was raging in full fury. The climax of the storm reached San Juan shortly after midnight, and by three o'clock in the morning the force of the wind at San Juan had died down considerably. The force of the wind was tremendous, and impossible to describe.

    At daylight I drove out through San Juan, Hato Rey and Rio Piedras and along the road toward Caguas, as far as it was opened. The work of the Department of the Interior and of the police in opening roads and restoring communications cannot be praised too highly. Many of these men left their own homes in ruins, their families shelterless, to report for work before daylight and get the lines open. The police were active all during the storm and it is no exaggeration to say that the loss of life would have been much heavier had it not been for their splendid work. The activity of the Department of the Interior can be judged from the fact that shortly after dawn the main road from San Juan toward Caguas was passable to about one kilometer beyond Rio Piedras. At that time, of course, San Juan was completely isolated; it was not known whether the storm had swept the entire Island or not, and the spectacle presented in San Juan, Hato Rey and Rio Piedras was extremely disheartening. Hundreds of houses were blown away entirely, roads and streets were a mass of debris, all light and telephone poles and wires were down, trees were uprooted everywhere and even strong houses had suffered severely through losing roofs and doorways and windows.

    The National Guard was ordered into immediate service and distributed over the storm-stricken area. In all of the towns prisoners and volunteer workers went to work clearing streets. As the day wore on, the injured began to be brought in from the country and reports of the death toll and of the injuries mounted. The Red Cross immediately established feeding stations and within twenty-four hours supplies, both medical and food, had either arrived at the principal towns in the storm-covered area, or were on the road.

    During the day of September 27, the Governor's Secretary, Mr. Woodfin L. Butte, was directed to take advantage of the offer of the Pan-American Airways and to make a flight over the eastern part of the Island in an attempt to delimit the storm area and determine the approximate percentage of damage to houses and buildings. On the following day the Governor, with his Military Aide Lieut. William G. Caldwell, made another flight from San Juan westward as far as Mayagüez in order to determine the damage and limits of the storm in that area. By these two flights the entire northern half of the Island was covered and information as to the relative situation of the different municipalities was available much more quickly than would it have been possible had we waited for reports brought overland. We were also thus enabled to check up on exaggerated reports which came in from some towns which had been only lightly hit.

    On September 27, a preliminary citizens' meeting was called for the purpose of forming a Hurricane Relief and Rehabilitation Commission to cooperate with the Red Cross and to take such other steps as might be considered necessary. At this meeting, Dr. Jose Padín, Commissioner of Education, was selected Chairman of the Executive Committee, Hon. Pablo Berga, Judge District Court of San Juan, Secretary, and Mr. Frederick King, Treasurer. The other members of the Executive Committee were: Colonel George L. Byroade, 65th Infantry, and Chief Justice Emilio del Toro of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

    Two sub-committees were formed, one on Price Control, the chairmanship of which was given to Hon. Ira K. Wells, Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, with whom were appointed Mr. Antonio Vicens Ríos and Hon. Jose Ramón Quiñones, Special Prosecuting Attorney at Large of the Insular Government. The other Sub-Committee was on Finance. The members of this sub-committee were: Hon. Luis Sanchez Morales, Chairman, Mr. Manuel González, Mr. Frederick King, Mr. Victor Braegger, Mr. Fred. Holmes, Mr. Emilio S. Jiménez, Mr. Diego Carrión, Hon. R. H. Todd, Mr. William H. Ferguson, Mr. P. J. Rosaly, Mr. Jaime Annexy, Hon. R. Sancho Bonet, Hon. R. Arjona Siaca, Mr. Enrique Calimano and Col. Raúl Esteves.

    The Executive Committee and both of these sub-committees did excellent work. Prices of necessities were prevented from rising by the vigorous work of the Committee on Price Control and by the threat of the Governor to publish in every newspaper in the Island the names of every merchant who raised prices during the period of the emergency. The Finance Committee collected the sum of $74,998.09 to aid hurricane sufferers.

    The Red Cross was designated as the agency in charge of food and shelter relief for the Committee, and the Department of Health was given charge of the care and hospitalization of the injured. All members of the committees and all officers of the Insular Government worked in the closest harmony and with the finest spirit of cooperation. The National Red Cross sent field representatives by air who aided greatly in the immediate emergency. So many persons aided so generously in the disaster relief work that it is impossible to call attention to each one by name.

    As soon as radio station WKAQ was in shape to operate, the Governor broadcast an appeal to the people in general to make common cause in each municipality for the reconstruction of homes and for the clearing away of debris. Embodied in the radio address was the thought that due to the difficult economic situation in the continental United States, we must not and could not expect to receive such generous aid as we had received after the disaster in 1928. To say that the people of Puerto Rico in general responded to this appeal is to put it mildly, since as a matter of fact they demonstrated a splendid spirit from the very moment the storm ceased. Scarcely had the wind died down when throughout the storm stricken area people were at work everywhere with hammer and saw repairing, so far as they could, the damage caused by the hurricane. Naturally, the poor suffered most in the hurricane due to the flimsy construction of their houses and to the fact that the poor have no reserves against disaster. The Commanding Officer of the United States troops in Puerto Rico was especially active in relief work and placed all of the army supplies in the Island at the disposal of the relief committee and the Red Cross.

    Dr. Jose Padín was instructed to use the teachers of the Island in a survey to determine the property loss exclusive of damage to crops, and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, Hon. Edmundo D. Colón, was instructed to make a survey of the monetary damage to crops. The Insular police took care of reporting the number of persons killed and injured. As a result of the careful estimates made by the Department of Education, it was found that the total value of property loss through the storm, exclusive of damages to school houses and government buildings, and also exclusive of damages to crops, reached the total of $14,975,850. 06. The Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce estimated damages to crops at approximately $20,000,000, while the estimated value of public-school property destroyed was $395,745 and the destruction of rented-school property amounted to $196,750; the total estimated damage to the Island of Puerto Rico through the storm thus reaching $35,568,345.06. The dead as an immediate result of the hurricane numbered 257 and over 4,820 persons were injured, many of them seriously. The number of injured who died later as a result of their injuries has not been determined.

    Forty-nine municipalities were affected in a more or less serious way and according to the report of the Red Cross, 76,925 families were in actual distress for a greater or less period as a result.

    All money collected by the Relief Committee was turned over to the Red Cross, except a small part used for immediate purchases of relief material. The emergency fund of the Insular Government, created by Act No. 33, approved April 28, 1932, proved its wisdom and worth. On the second day after the hurricane the Emergency Committee voted $40,000 to be spent by the Red Cross in immediate relief work and later from time to time other sums were appropriated for relief work as they were needed. The establishment of this fund was a wise measure and it may be said here in passing that the administration should resist any attempts to dissipate the moneys in this fund or to use the same for any purpose other than emergencies. The total amount used from the emergency fund as a result of the hurricane of September 26-27, 1932, was $164,285.12, including a loan of $50,000 to the Fruit Growers Cooperative Credit Association, which was used for straightening and re-setting citrus trees and for the purchase of fertilizer urgently needed as a result of the storm, and without which it is generally conceded the 1933 citrus fruit crop could never have been properly matured. This $50,000 was a loan and is believed to be amply secured.

    The final report of the American Red Cross, Puerto Rico Chapter, is attached hereto as Appendix "A". Some details as to property loss will be found in the tables.

    This severe hurricane, striking an Island just beginning to recover from the 1928 storm and during a time of world-wide depression had far-reaching effects upon agriculture, banking and government finance, and especially upon the condition of the laboring classes.

    Statistics on Hurricane

    Municipalities affected---49

    Number of dwellings totally destroyed---45,554

    Number of dwellings partially destroyed---47,876

    Number of animals killed:
    Horses---777
    Cows---3,402
    Goats---5,054
    Pigs---13,282
    Poultry---446,890
    Total---496,405

    Number of stores totally destroyed---1,256

    Number of stores partially destroyed---1,533

    Number of farm buildings totally destroyed---10,000

    Number of farm buildings partially destroyed---1,992

    Total value of property destroyed excluding schools and equipment:
    Dwellings totally destroyed---$5,095,387.76
    Dwellings partially destroyed---3,546,979.94
    Furnishings destroyed---1,543,648.51
    Personal effects destroyed---872,383.44
    Value of animals killed---470,837.59
    Stores totally destroyed---379,303.30
    Stores partially destroyed---268,226.49
    Farm building totally destroyed---1,650,105.48
    Farm buildings partially destroyed---188,263.65
    Miscellaneous property destroyed---960,713.90
    Total value of property destroyed---$14,975,850.06

    Summary of Approximate Agricultural losses on Account of the Storm of San Cipran of September 26-27, 1932, on the Basis of the Information Received by the Department of Agriculture and Commers to Date.

    1. Sugar Cane:

    Tons of Sugar

    Value

    Damage to cane based on an average price of $3.00 per quintal of sugar and an allowance of 50 cents for harvesting, shipping and selling expenses

    142,850

    $7,142,500

    1% reduction in sugar yield on remaining crop

    40,000

    2,000,000

    Extraordinary field expenses on 168,000 acres at $400 per acre

     

    672,000

    Estimated total of claims on insurance companies for damage to factories,outlying buildings, railroads, and laborers' houses

     

    1,739,032

    Total

     

    $11,553,332

    2. Coffee:

    Quintals

    Value

    Crop loss (20.57%) at $20.00 per quintal, less cost of harvesting and processing, $5.00 per quintal

    30,401

    $456,015

    Coffee trees at 20 cents per tree

     

    1,485,965

    Shade trees at $1.00 each

     

    962,349

    Temporary shade (bananas) 50% of value at 30 cents per stool

     

    838,508

    Total

     

    $3,742,837

    3. Citrus and Pineapples:

    No. of Boxes

    Value

    Loss of packed boxes of U S. Nos. 1 and 2 fruit at about $1.00 per box (approximate production cost)

    800,000

    $800,000

    Loss of boxes of cull fruit good for canning at 20 cents a box

    250,000

    50,000

    Profit loss (an estimate) per crate shipped

    800,000

    400,000

    Clearing of wreckage at $10.00 per acre

     

    60,000

    Loss of 6% of 300,000 trees, or 18,000 trees, at $10.00 per tree

     

    180,000

    Packing house, residences and other outlying buildings very approximately estimated at

     

    195,000

    Direct loss to crop of pines

     

    55,000

    New plantings

     

    500

    Crop retardation

     

    165,000

    Loss to laborers' houses not available

       

    Total

     

    $1,905,500

    4. Coconuts:

    Number

    Value

    Zone A, palms destroyed at $4.00 each (41%)

    101,295

    $405, 180

    Nuts lost (100%-15% salvaged) at $10.00 per thousand less $5.00 cost of harvesting

    5,100,000

    26,775

    Total

     

    $784,760

    Zone B, palms destroyed (25%) at $4.00 each

    83,710

    334,840

    Nuts lost (75%)

    3,402,000

    17,965

    Zone C, loss negligible

       

    Total

     

    $11,553,332

    5.Tobacco:

     

    Value

    Barns destroyed

     

    $738,500

    Seed beds destroyed

     

    13,250

    Total

     

    $751,750

    6.Bees:

     

    Value

    Loss of 1,000 gallons honey

     

    $2,085

    Loss of 1,734 hives

     

    5,194

    Total

     

    $7,279

    7. Livestock:

    Value

     

    Heads (cattle, horses, hogs)

       

    Total

    $29,501

     

    8. Minor Fruits:

       

    Losses to dairy establishments have been heavy; but not reliable data fixing them are yet at hand

       

    Total

    $1,666,627

     

    NOTE:-The losses to coffee industrial plants and other establishments are negligible, for which reason no report is made on them. Those on laborers' houses are not reported upon for lack of reliable information.