Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander, Jr.
Office: (607) 255-3290
FOR RELEASE: Oct. 8, 1998
Hurricane Georges destroys the homes of five Arecibo employees; observatory
turns from life-seeking to life sustenance
Grass-roots effort under way at Cornell to send relief to colleagues and
friends in Puerto Rico
ARECIBO, Puerto Rico -- As the Arecibo Observatory is used to scan the
cosmos for extraterrestrial life, the observatory itself has become a source
of life sustenance in the aftermath of Hurricane Georges.
Following Hurricane Georges' sweep through the island Sept. 21, about 20
homes of observatory employees sustained damage, and five of those homes
were destroyed, said Rey Medina, director of human resources for the
observatory. The National Astronomy Ionospheric Center (NAIC) at Cornell
University in Ithaca, N.Y., manages the observatory for the National Science
Medina reports that about 95 percent of Puerto Rico's power lines were
destroyed by Hurricane Georges, and he said the Puerto Rico Power Authority
estimates that it could be two months before power is fully restored to
Arecibo. The observatory employs about 140 people, and the homes of the
observatory employees dot the hilly vicinity leading up to the dish.
In the meantime, the observatory is providing the Arecibo community with a
wide range of important services. Citizens and employees have been getting
their potable water from the observatory, as the facility has its own fresh
water well. Many people nearby have used the laundry facilities, dined in
the cafeteria and sought recreation at the observatory's swimming pool. The
small cafeteria, normally used by 10 people on any given night, has been
serving anywhere from 50 to 100 people at dinner since the hurricane.
"It's been quite a popular place these days," says Medina.
Cornell has ordered 53 generators for families of Arecibo employees. These
2,500-watt Honda generators will be sold at cost to the families and will
provide enough electricity for refrigeration and electrical light until
power is restored, said Eugene Bartell, an administrator with the NAIC in
Ithaca. All 53 generators are being shipped by Federal Express, and shipping
costs will be absorbed by Cornell. The units are expected to arrive at the
airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, today (Oct. 8).
Medina reports that the observatory employees are in high spirits. He has
organized 15 employees to serve as language translators for the Red Cross
volunteers currently working in mountain areas of the island.
On the Cornell campus in Ithaca, the Cornell Employee Assembly has begun to organize a hurricane relief effort for its severely affected Arecibo
colleagues. The goal: $10,000 by Nov. 1, and donations would be distributed
to Arecibo families in need. Those wanting to contribute can make checks out
to Cornell University and mail them to Cornell's Arecibo Emergency Fund, P.O.
Box 576, Ithaca N.Y. 14851-0576.