SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —
Nearby Cuba has been drenched as well. Authorities reported that June was the wettest on record for the western part of the island. In the first six days of that month alone, 16.6 inches of rain fell, 188 percent of the historic average for the full month, with isolated accumulations as high as 22 inches.
Hundreds of homes were flooded along with croplands, highways and tobacco leaf-curing buildings in the western province of Pinar del Rio, known as the cradle of Cuba’s tobacco industry.
In Puerto Rico, the wet weather has exposed an uncomfortable truth: The territory’s roads, bridges, tunnels and drainage systems are ill equipped for the increasingly heavy storms likely to come due to climate change.
“It’s an urgent issue, not only because of the problems we’ve had, but because of the problems we’re going to have,” said Gabriel Rodriguez, president of the nonprofit Puerto Rico Planning Society. “Those kind of extreme events are going to become more common, and the losses and problems associated with them will become greater.”
Even normal years in Puerto Rico already are soggy by the standards of other famously rainy places. The island gets an average of 56 inches (142 centimeters) of rain a year, while Seattle gets an average of 39 inches (99 centimeters) and London sees about 29 inches.
The territory’s problems are compounded by the lack of a general land-use plan. Rodriguez said that means hundreds of homes and businesses are built in flood-prone areas because projects are approved with little scrutiny.
“It’s an accumulation of errors that we’re paying for with the problems we’re seeing now,” he said.
And rising sea levels will hurt as well. Rodriguez noted that a dozen flights had to be rerouted when the mid-July storm flooded the main airport, which lies nearly at sea level.