Puerto Rico and several islands in the Caribbean have been devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
We spoke with sales reps and store owners about the aftermath of the storms and the outlook for upcoming seasons.
Communication is severely limited throughout the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Almost all phone lines are down and the majority of interviews had to be done over email in one of few hotspots found around the islands.
Nanette Gordillo - Owner Kokomo Puerto Rico
When I spoke with Nanette it had been 11 days since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Her family was safe but were still without power, gas and water. Many roads were left inaccessible and almost all communication was down.
All shopping malls had remained closed but she had been granted access to some of her stores.
“I found some ceiling damage and water inside,” Nanette said. “We know there is merchandise damage but cannot account for the total loss of inventory until a full inspection is carried out.”
Due to the lack of communication available on the island, she was unable to get in contact with many of her employees.
Nanette is uncertain of when she will be able to reopen her stores, and is very worried about the future.
“We are very concerned for the forecast of the economy for the rest of the year and 2018,” she said. “We are worried that because of the devastating effect Hurricane Maria had on the island, there may be an increase in the exodus of Puerto Ricans leaving the island.”
After government assessment, she was told that the outlook is that 100% of the island’s electricity should be up in six months. That long without power will devastate many businesses and leave many people without jobs.
“To make things even worse, this natural disaster caught us right in the middle of the biggest expansion of our flagship Kokomo store in Plaza Las Americas, the largest shopping center in the Caribbean,” she said. “Everything was scheduled so that this store, which will be double the existing size, could open before the Christmas season. Now those plans will not be achieved.”
Once she can open some stores, she plans to sell fundraising merchandise with positive messages and give the profits to non-profit organizations.
Evaristo Merced Mora - Puerto Rico Rep. for RVCA, OluKai, Kaenon
Evaristo Merced Mora was home in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit.
“Our island is completely destroyed, it’s a major disaster,” Evaristo said. “I have seen many hurricanes since I was a kid, but nothing like this. It is like a bomb was dropped here and everything is gone. It is like a war zone, everything is on the ground. Tears are dropping from my eyes as I type these humble lines.”
Power lines are down, there is very limited access to water and they are running low on food. Lines for the little gas and ice available on the island are blocks long. There is no transportation and roads are blocked making it impossible for help to get where it is needed.
“There are people without food and supplies, the more upcountry the worse it is,” he said. “On top of it all, we are not getting the support or help that we need. We are suffering a humanitarian crisis and we need help. ”
As with almost everyone we spoke to, because of the lack of communication systems, Evaristo was unable to reach many of the retailers he works with.
“It is a dead zone by all means,” he said. “The only retailer that I have been able to contact is Carlos Cabrero from Tres Palmas Surf Shop because he was in Japan for the ISA World Titles. His shop got flooded up to the belly. Lucky for him that some neighbors were able to seal the shop after some windows broke to prevent any stealing.”
A government curfew was placed on the island to help prevent further looting.
“Since we haven’t been able to touch base with any retailers, we have no clue when retail will be back up and running. All malls are closed. Based on what we are hearing, we can assume that it will probably take from 60 to 90 days for them to open again.”
Carlyle Dublin - Owner Sleek Sandals
Carlyle Dublin, Owner of Sleek Sandals in St. Maarten, was in Orlando for the storm but returned to the island last week.
He was shocked to see the devastation on the island and is still unsure of the full extent of the damage.
“It is the worst storm ever recorded in the Caribbean,” Carlyle said. “Reality hasn’t set in yet. There is still a lot of cleaning to do and we will not know the full impact until that is done.”
His home has no power but running water has been restored. His business sustained water damage and also remains without electricity.
Many homes, businesses and hotels on the island were destroyed and are left without gas, running water and electricity. Many cars were flipped over or left with broken windshields and windows.
“It is very devastating," Carlyle said. “I was lucky my business was not destroyed. Many businesses in the main shopping area were destroyed. In addition to the damage there is a lot of looting going on.”
To prevent further looting, a curfew has been placed on the island. Many people who suffered severe damage to their homes were also evacuated off the island immediately after the hurricane.
St. Maarten’s economy relies on tourism, an industry that was halted by the storm. Many hotels are damaged and not suitable for visitors. Incoming commercial flights to the island are on hold. The first cruise ship is scheduled to arrive at St. Maarten on Nov. 11.
Air freight will be allowed back to the island next week, which will allow the island to start rebuilding.
Most businesses remained closed with limited access to grocery stores and banks.
The damage to these businesses has left many people on the island without jobs.
“We are busy working together, working hand-in-hand to recover quickly,” he said. “This is our high season. It’s really sad that we won’t experience a high season if we don’t repair quickly.”
The military has been working to get the island back together in order to get tourism back up and running but they are unsure of how long it will take.
We heard other retailers were hard hit in the Caribbean. Here is some information about a few according to their websites:
St. Thomas: Caribbean Surf Co.’s website is down for orders and their Billabong St. Thomas location remains closed. Their Red Hook and Havensight Caribbean Surf Co. locations have opened.
St. John: Big-Planet remains closed and all online sales are halted until further notice.
Jolly Dog is selling Hurricane Irma benefit merchandise on their website. A portion of the proceeds will go to island charities and the store’s rebuilding efforts.
How To Help
The SIMA Humanitarian Fund is joining with the surf industry to raise funds for “Waves For Water,” an initiative to secure access to clean drinking water in the most impacted and neglected areas of Puerto Rico.
A $50 donation will cover the cost of one MVP Filtration System, the fastest, easiest and most cost-efficient way to get pure potable water to communities in need. One filter can provide 100 people with clean water for up to five years or a family of 10 for over a decade.
So far 1,500 filters are on the ground in Puerto Rico. The funds raised will provide for additional filters as well as staff and travel to the island to train local communities on how to best use them.
Right now over $9,000 has been donated, including large donations from Rip Curl, Quiksilver Roxy, and SURFER.
In order to expedite funds, the deadline to contribute is Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 5 P.M. PDT. The goal is to raise $30,000.
Click here for more information on Waves For Water and to donate: http://sima.com/support-puerto-rico-hurricane-relief/
Flip Flop Shops
Flip Flop Shops started the “Free Your Toes Relief Fund” at all participating shops as a way for customers to help those affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
100% of funds will go directly to official local and national relief organizations.
One of the many organizations is “United For Puerto Rico,” a fund created by the First Lady of Puerto Rico for the sole purpose of providing aid and support to those affected by the storms. Learn more or donate directly here: http://unidosporpuertorico.com/en/
Another recipient is the Go Fund Me page of Vanessa Essed, owner of Flip Flop Shops St. Maarten. Her shop sustained significant damage and she is collecting donations to help rebuild. You can donate directly to Vanessa here: https://www.gofundme.com/4g0pup4