Jamaica struggles to rebuild
Kingston, Jamaica — The veranda of the Bustamente Children's Hospital is crowded these days with babies suffering from drinking contaminated water and toddlers with burns from candles used to light homes without electricity. Such are the ``curses of Hurricane Gilbert,'' Sister Jean Jacksonin, director of casualties, says.
The fierce hurricane that swept across the middle of the island Sept. 12, killing 45 people and destroying an estimated one out of five houses, has left a trail of problems that Jamaicans are only beginning to slowly recover from.
Three weeks later, more than half the island is still without electricity, running water, or telephone service. Officials say even with the help of teams of workers from the United States and Canada, it will be Christmas before all utilities are restored throughout the country.
It will take the country's vital farming industry even longer to recover. Minister of Agriculture Percival Broderick said last week the nation lost $49.5 million in bananas, coconuts, coffee, sugarcane, and other crops during the storm. Sugarcane can grow back in six months and banana trees in eight months. But Jamaica's famous Blue Mountain coffee crop, 60 percent of which was destroyed, will need five years to recover, and coconut trees will bear fruit only after seven years, he said.
The government has been racing to find the money that small farmers will need to buy fertilizer and seedlings so they can replant quickly and minimize the long-term impact of the storm.
Shortly after the storm, Prime Minister Edward Seaga requested that donor countries send cash. The US alone has responded with $75 million in aid. Other countries have also been pledging support.
Tourism is the most significant money-earner for the tropical island, bringing in $595 million in revenues last year. The Jamaican government has made it a priority to restore utilities and services to the island's famous North Coast hotels as soon as possible.
Peter Rousseau, chairman of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, says 1,374 out of 5,734 hotel rooms are out of commission, although most only suffered minor water damage and will be easily repaired.
He is confident the tourist industry will be operating at 70 percent capacity soon and at full capacity by the start of the winter tourist season on Dec. 15.
But many in the industry say they fear adverse publicity about the hurricane will drive potential visitors to other islands. ``There have been widespread cancellations, and we can't seem to change their minds,'' says a worker at the Jamaica Tourist Board who asked not to be identified.
Jamaicans say they are optimistic their nation will recover from Gilbert, but the days are hot in Kingston without ice, air conditioning, or even shade, since most large trees were toppled.
Because of the lack of refrigeration, most people have been subsisting on a bland diet of canned corned beef.
``I'm tired, I'm depressed, I'm like everyone else,'' says Kingston housekeeper Lee Daily.