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Puerto Ricans savvy in protecting their homes from Irma’s wrath

By on September 15, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the September 14 print edition of Caribbean Business.

SAN JUAN — Nineteen years ago, Puerto Rico experienced the direct impact of Hurricane Georges, an atmospheric event that caused nearly $3 billion in infrastructure damages. During that event, thousands of Puerto Ricans crowded the country’s hardware stores to protect their properties and lives.

With this experience in mind and facing the possibility of a catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Category 5 storm in Atlantic history, consumers assumed a different behavior when deciding which materials would protect their homes and businesses.

According to Steven Kopel, vice president of National Lumber & Hardware, customers were more judicious in deciding what to set in place to mitigate structural damage and chose 0.25 inch by 0.25 inch plywood panels, regardless of their higher cost compared with other similar materials, considering that this type of wood would provide them more protection.

“It all started the [previous] weekend, from Saturday on, then Sunday and closest to the event on Monday and Tuesday,” Kopel said. “The entire population went out to the street to prevent damages to their homes and shops. The [merchandise] that moved the most were plywood and wood materials.”

Comparing a normal week with that of Irma’s passage, the executive said that despite not having data available on increases in sales, multiple orders forced the company to have 400% more inventory available than usual.

“In all businesses and with our suppliers, the product was exhausted, so customers began to use other types of decorative panels, PVC [polyvinyl chloride, plastic] panels for cabinets, what they could find and what was in inventory,” said Kopel, adding that this trend began 24 to 48 hours before Irma’s arrival.

According to Kopel, that was the moment when customers began to buy plywood as thin as three-eighths of an inch “due to the depletion of supplies and the collective desperation to protect homes.”

There were so many orders that suppliers from the vast majority of hardware stores in Puerto Rico saw their high inventories totally run out, thus many businesses could not meet the high demand for wood last week. Some stores opted to close their operations due to lack of materials.

According to a report prepared April 30, 1999, by the Planning Board, the damage to infrastructure caused by Georges, which was a Category 3 hurricane when it hit the island, amounted to more than $2.8 billion, which represented 66.4% of total reported losses. Of this amount, over $1.6 billion corresponds to damages to buildings.

At the closing of this edition, economists from the P.R. Treasury Department and Fiscal Agency & Financial Advisory Authority were working to detail Irma’s total economic impact on the island. Meanwhile, the Development & Infrastructure adviser at La Fortaleza, María Palou Abasolo, received a report for each of the island’s 78 municipalities on damages associated with the passage of the hurricane and, with the data, will soon prepare a more detailed report.

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