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FIRE SERVICE

Two unusually disastrous fires occured in 1944 45. In February 1945, the worst fire in the history of the Island took place at Lares. In all, 198 houses were destroyed, and the damage was estimated at $308,748. In March, another major fire broke out in Aguadilla where 43 houses were burned down.

The total number of fires handled during the year was 145, as compared with 75 during the preceding year. Total damage was estimated at $2,101,428. Bayamón suffered the greatest amount of property damage, with losses calculated at $714,525. Fires caused the death of eight persons, most of them children under eight years of age.

Lack of uniformity in hydrants and inadequate fire-fighting equipment continued to handicap the Fire Service. A survey made during the year showed that 80 per cent of the hydrants are in urgent need of repair or replacement, and that the number of existing hydrants is wholly inadequate. Although there were no funds with which to purchase new equipment, several pieces were received which had been contracted for during the previous year. New equipment delivered included 15 fire trucks and 16,000 feet of hose. Eight of the 33 pumpers which were transferred from the Civilian Defense during 1943-44 were remounted on new Ford chassis purchased during the year.

In October, the Service's Central office was installed in the new Insular Fire College building in Santurce.

GENERAL SUPPLIES ADMINISTRATION Activities of the General Supplies Administration during the past year included the allocation of shipping space; recapitulation of import statistics; procurement, importation and distribution of lumber and coffee; and the enforcement of a system of priorities for the purchase of fuel oil. An additional duty was assumed in April 1945, when the Administration agreed to accept responsibility for the continuation of the price support program for food crops and the agricultural market news service, which had formerly been carried on by the Office of Supply of the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The work of allocating shipping space increased considerably during the year as more commodities were released from government control. The policy of giving preference to the most essential items was continued.

Monthly imports of dry cargo for civilian use increased from 80,719 short tons in July 1944 to 109,634.79 in June 1945. A total of 984,208 short tons was received during the year. The Division of Finance and Statistics compiled monthly reports covering stocks in the Island of the most important food commodities. The Division also analyzed 834 manifests of steamships covering all incoming civilian cargo.

The procurement and distribution of lumber by the Administration was continued until November 1944, when dealers were again permitted to handle their own importations within the limits prescribed by the War Production Board and shipping space allocations. During the fiscal year, the Administration bought 8,026,860 board feet of lumber with a total value of $621,663.02.

A threatened coffee shortage caused the Administration to attempt to build a stockpile during the harvest season. It was impossible, however, to obtain an adequate supply in the local market, due to the short crop and the reluctance of the growers to sell at OPA prices. Importations from the Dominican Republic by the War Food Administration caused local growers to release some of their stores, and a coffee crisis was averted.

Bunker “C” fuel oil was again rationed in accordance with the priority system promulgated in 1942. A total of 3,825 permits for industrial use was issued for this commodity.

An emergency stockpile of construction materials was again built up for use in case of a hurricane and was disposed of at the close of the storm season.

On November 17, 1944, the Governor appointed the Administrator sole buyer of surplus war property for all Insular departments and agencies and municipalities. Commodities totalling $104,795.55 in value were purchased up to June 30, 1945.

The General Supplies Administration also encouraged the Victory Garden Program by contributing $2,410.04 worth of seeds to the Department of Agriculture for distribution among small farmers.

The Administration took over the Price Support Program on April 16, 1945. The major activity during this short period was the preparation of a Procedure and Manual of Instructions. Contracts were entered into for the use of warehouses where Produce Centers were established and for using the services of the Vegetable Marketing Cooperatives sponsored by the U. S. Department of the Interior as purchasing agents of the Program in various localities. A campaign was conducted through the radio and various Insular and Federal agencies to acquaint farmers with details of the program.

The Market News Service broadcast a daily summary of agricultural prices over three different radio stations. Price reports were also mimeographed and distributed, upon request.

A net profit of $19,934.63 realized from commercial operations reduced the net cost of maintenance of the General Supplies Administration to $40,273.13 as against a budgetary appropriation of $72,609.51.

HOUSING AUTHORITY

War restrictions on building continued to prevent the development of new housing projects. As in the previous year, the funds of the Federal Public Housing Authority, on which the Insular program has depended, were reserved for housing connected with the war effort. Puerto Rico could not qualify for such housing. An annual appropriation by the Insular Government of $30,000 for administrative expenses has allowed the Authority to continue its other activities.

Two new laws passed during the last legislative session will serve to make the Authority less dependent on Federal aid in the future. One act appropriated $1,850,000 for the development of housing projects, and the other provided $1,000,000 for slum control. Under the latter Act, the Planning Board may declare "slum districts”, and the Housing Authority may then hire inspectors and watchmen to enforce the regulations of the Board with respect to the development of such areas, or may proceed to eliminate them through voluntary purchase or condemnation of land and buildings.

Disastrous fires in the towns of Lares and Aguadilla in February of 1945 left 258 families homeless. The Insular Emergency Committee placed at the disposal of the Authority the sum of $600,000 to rehouse the victims. Designs for the reconstruction of Lares have already been completed.

In cooperation with the War Emergency Program, a slum survey was made of each town that is under the territorial jurisdiction of the Housing Authority. Under a law passed the previous year, appropriating $2,200,000 for the development of housing projects, sites were inspected and located in 71 towns approved by the Planning Board and Health Department, and survey parties were sent out to prepare survey and topographical maps for the purchase of land and the preparation of site plans. In all, 18 property surveys and 15 topographical maps were completed. The Planning Division of the Authority was reorganized in 1945, and the programs for the towns of Lares and Aguadilla were developed by this Division.

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Twelve completed housing projects, containing a total of 2,113 dwellings units, are now being operated by the Authority. Rent collections in 1944_45 amounted to $126,727.84 with a vacancy and collection loss of only 0.42 per cent.

Social activities carried out in cooperation with various welfare organizations were continued from previous years. New activities include the establishment of day nurseries in two projects and an elementary school in one project; the organization of Agricultural Extension Service units in two projects; tenant associations in five projects; and baseball and softball teams in seven projects.

INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION

The work of the Industrial Commission was considerably lightened this year due to the final liquidation in 1943-44 of all claims that had been pending from the old Workmen's Compensation Trust Fund. A total of 1,505 cases were registered with the Commission during the year, and 154 pending cases were carried over from 1943–44. Decisions were rendered in 1,534 cases, leaving 125 pending on June 30, 1945. In addition, 188 cases were reconsidered and 851 public hearings were held. Twenty five cases were appealed to the Supreme Court. In 20 of these, the decisions of the Commission were upheld.

The Medical Advisor examined and reported on 1,104 cases, and rendered 60 reports in connection with workmen brought before the Commission by the medical division of the State Fund. He also took part in hundreds of public hearings.

The budget of the Industrial Commission for the fiscal year amounted to $75,499.89. Of the $60,098 alloted to salaries, only $56,802.91 was expended.

The Commission continued its practice of publishing in the daily press a brief summary of its most important decisions.

INSTITUTE OF TROPICAL AGRICULTURE During the third year of its existence, the Institute of Tropical Agriculture widened the scope of its investigations in plant physiology and started research in agrostology and economic geography. Research was continued in soil minerology and plant nutrition, and the field of mycology was extended to include a study of the fungus flora of the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries.

A small plant introduction service was organized during the year for the purpose of keeping a record of plants introduced by the Institute. Several specimens were brought in from Barbados and

Jamaica by the Director in the course of his trips on behalf of the Anglo-American Caribbean Commission.

The Plant Physiology Department continued research begun in the previous year on the hormone mechanism of tropical plants, and explored the practical possibilities of results obtained. The usefulness of hormones for selective sprays for weed extermination was demonstrated. The chemical used promises to become a successful herbicide for graminaceous crops such as sugar cane. Experimentation with plant propagation by means of cuttings dipped in a chemical solution instead of by seeds was continued with highly successful results. Crop control of pineapple production (relating to the time of flowering and the size of fruit) was perfected with the use of hormone treatments, and the method is already being utilized by pineapple growers on plantations adjacent to the Lajas experimental farm.

The Department of Economic Geography carried out field studies in Brazil, Bolivia and the Caucas Valley in Colombia. Data gathered on these expeditions is now being organized for publication. A progress report was submitted to the Planning Board by the committee which has been investigating the irrigation possibilities of the Lajas Valley in the southwestern part of the Island. This committee, composed of representatives of Insular and Federal agencies under the chairmanship of the Director of the Institute, was appointed in 1943–44 to make the survey.

The Department of Agrostology, organized in July 1944, started a project to determine the autoecology of various species of tropical grasses and their adaptation to different ecological zones, growth habits, etc. A detailed survey of all grasses native to Puerto Rico is being made. Exotic species introduced from other tropical countries are being grown in various study stations in different ecological zones of the Island for comparison with native species. One of these experimental planting stations has been established at the Isabela Sub-station and others are planned at Lajas, Coamo, Adjuntas and Río Piedras. More than 100 species of grasses have already been introduced in Puerto Rico from Venezuela, Curazao, St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.

INSURANCE . The records of the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance show that the amount of insurance business carried on in Puerto Rico in the calendar year 1944 was exceeded only in the record-breaking year of 1942, when a total of $9,250,729.13 in premiums was collected.

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