The Hurricane of 1932 in Puerto Rico Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In September 1932, a massive hurricane, also known as the San Ciprián hurricane, struck the coast of Puerto Rico. Ten months later, the governor of Puerto Rico, James R. Beverley (1894–1967), issued an official report of the course of events, damage, and numbers reflecting the cost of the hurricane, including loss of life, agriculture, and livestock as well as costs related to property damage. This report, which was addressed to Secretary of War George Henry Dern (1872–1936), served as a thorough breakdown of how the crisis was handled, what offices became involved, and the extent of Governor Beverley's dedication to the island of Puerto Rico.

Summary Overview

In September 1932, a massive hurricane, also known as the San Ciprián hurricane, struck the coast of Puerto Rico. Ten months later, the governor of Puerto Rico, James R. Beverley (1894–1967), issued an official report of the course of events, damage, and numbers reflecting the cost of the hurricane, including loss of life, agriculture, and livestock as well as costs related to property damage. This report, which was addressed to Secretary of War George Henry Dern (1872–1936), served as a thorough breakdown of how the crisis was handled, what offices became involved, and the extent of Governor Beverley's dedication to the island of Puerto Rico.

Defining Moment

The hurricane of 1932 ravaged a third of Puerto Rico during what many historians consider the worst year of the Great Depression. In his report, Governor Beverley estimated that the storm caused more than $35.5 million worth of damage to the island and affected nearly 77,000 families. Fatalities at the time of the report held at 257, but the report notes that number did not include individuals who died later as a result of injuries sustained during the storm.

Governor Beverley's report is thorough in its description of the groups that organized to provide relief for families. The 1932 storm came on the heels of another devastating hurricane that tore through the island in September 1928. That storm carried more intense winds and affected a much wider area of Puerto Rico, but it incurred less damage than the 1932 hurricane.

Beverley outlined the agencies that were enlisted to assist in preparing the island for the storm, stating that a flag system was in place in the capital city of San Juan and in local areas in order to notify the residents of the approaching storm. Beverley proudly affirmed that he believed “every inhabitant of the Island knew of the hurricane's approach.… No one was caught without ample time to make adequate preparations.” There were procedures in place to reach and warn as many residents as possible, thereby reducing the amount of damage done to the island and the loss of life. Such early prevention and awareness led to positive results, which were continued in his relief and rebuilding efforts following the storm.

Author Biography

Governor James Rumsey Beverley was born on June 15, 1894, in Amarillo, Texas. He served in the Army during World War I and began his political career as assistant attorney general of Puerto Rico in 1925, an office he held for two years. In 1927, he became attorney general of Puerto Rico and remained in that position until he was named acting governor in January 1932, the same year the hurricane would test his governing abilities.

Of the fifteen non-native Puerto Rican governors between 1900 and 1952, Beverley was the only one fluent in Spanish. During his relatively short term in office, which ended in July 1933, he not only faced the devastation brought by the San Ciprián hurricane, but he also dealt with the end of Prohibition on the island and was embroiled in a dispute over his support of birth control, a controversial issue for the primarily Roman Catholic Puerto Rican population.

Beverley's term as acting governor ended July 1, 1933. He chose to stay on the island to practice law and was involved with several local committees. He returned to his native Texas in the 1960s, settling in Austin, where he lived until his death in 1967 at the age of seventy-three.

Document Analysis

Governor Beverley explains in a preface to his report to Secretary of War George Henry Dern that, although he is no longer acting governor of Puerto Rico (he had been succeeded by Robert Haynes Gore), he nonetheless wishes to compile the Annual Report of the Governor, since “the most important event during the year” occurred while he was in office. It is unclear whether Beverley is obligated to submit the report, or if he feels it is his responsibility to do so. What is evident, however, is Beverley's dedication to the island and to the people of Puerto Rico. He says he utilized every agency and resource available to him as governor in order to prepare residents and businesses for the storm. His commitment to effectively monitor all official organizations in the cleanup and relief efforts is clear, and his description of the storm's aftermath shows how deeply the devastation affected him.

Beverley begins his official report noting that the storm is locally referred to as San Ciprián, “the saint's day upon which it occurred.” He provides a general overview of the hurricane's intensity as compared to the more powerful, yet less devastating 1928 hurricane, and he notes the path that San Ciprián took across the island.

The next portion of the report is a detailed outline of the pre-storm preparations Beverley orchestrated, as well as the specific groups and government bodies that were charged with storm-related tasks. He notes that his office began hurricane safety preparation at the start of the hurricane season and that his instructions to municipal mayors to establish a hurricane warning system utilizing signal flags worked flawlessly during the September storm. He then explains that on the day the hurricane was due to make landfall, he called a meeting with local and national officials, and each organization head was given specific tasks geared toward protecting the safety of residents and property before, during, and after the storm. The governor's office was the official headquarters for all such activities.

Beverley recounts that by 11:00 pm on September 26, all telephone and telegraph communication was out, and “the storm was raging in full fury” with tremendous winds “impossible to describe.” The following day he toured as much of the area as was accessible and remarks that “hundreds of houses were blown away entirely, roads and streets were a mass of debris… [and] light and telephone poles and wires were down.” It is clear that he is shocked by the damage, yet he praises the efforts of the island's police and believes the death toll would have been much higher without their work.

Cleanup and rebuilding efforts were led by the National Guard and the Department of the Interior, which Beverley praises for “opening roads and restoring communication.” The Red Cross was charged with providing food, shelter, and medicine. The Department of Health oversaw the care and hospitalization of the injured. Pan-American Airways transported Beverley and a member of his staff on two separate occasions to fly over the island, which allowed the governor to assess the damage much more quickly than if he had waited for reports to be brought overland.

The day after the hurricane hit, Beverley formed commissions, committees, and subcommittees comprised of citizens and members of the military as well as relief groups in order to begin to formulate ways that Puerto Ricans could be helped and their island rebuilt. Also addressed was the matter of ensuring that the prices of what he terms “necessities” were fixed and not allowed to rise following the storm.

Throughout the report, Governor Beverley showers praise on every member of the local and national organizations that aided in relief efforts. It is evident, however, that without his commitment and dedication to his office and to the people of Puerto Rico and without his leadership abilities as governor, the short- and long-term effects of the hurricane would have been much more devastating.

Essential Themes

Beverley's report indicates that the systems put in place by both officials and civilians in 1932 were effective in mitigating the impact of the storm on the inhabitants of the island. In his report, Beverley wrote of the people of Puerto Rico who, before the hurricane subsided, already came together trying to repair what damage they could find. Once communication lines were restored, the local radio station served as a tool for communicating with everyone on the island.

With memories of the 1928 hurricane undoubtedly still fresh in the minds of many residents, compounded by the stress and worry the Depression elicited, the push to prepare and to assist were resonant themes at this time. Of particular concern were the individuals living in remote areas. The previous storm had brought with it several thousand cases of dysentery. However, because of the medical supplies and medical aid available, the hurricane of 1932 saw very few deaths from tetanus and only a single case of dysentery.

Hurricane San Ciprián led to significant loss of life and occurred in desperate times close on the heels of a previously devastating storm. However, government and community bodies, the military, and civilians alike did their best to prepare for the storm and came together to rebuild afterward, reducing the effects to the best of their ability.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Palm, Risa, & Michael E. Hodgson. “Natural Hazards in Puerto Rico.” Geographical Review 83.3 (1993): 280–89. Print.
  • “The Public Health Aspects of the Hurricane of San Ciprián, September 26–27, 1932.” Libraria, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. PDF file.
  • Robles, Michelle. “Hardships in the Land of Enchantment: The Economic Effects of the Great Depression on the United States Territory of Puerto Rico.” University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Michelle Robles, 2010. PDF file.
  • Rodríguez, Havidán. “A Socioeconomic Analysis of Hurricanes in Puerto Rico: An Overview of Disaster Mitigation and Preparedness.” Hurricanes. Ed. Henry F. Diaz & Roger Pulwarty. New York: Springer, 1997. 121–43. Print.
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