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Maria: Puerto Rico residents prepare for long recovery after hurricane that has 'destroyed everything in its path'

The entire island loses power and flash flooding becomes a major problem

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Wednesday 20 September 2017 22:37 BST
Winds lash the coastal city of Fajardo as Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico on 19 September 2017
Winds lash the coastal city of Fajardo as Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico on 19 September 2017 (RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The entire island of Puerto Rico had its electricity knocked out and faced major flooding as Hurricane Maria pounded the island having already flattened parts of the Caribbean.

Maria, the second major hurricane to roar through the region this month, had sustained winds of up to 155mph (250kph) when it made landfall near Yabucoa on the island's southeast.

The storm has already killed nine people across the Caribbean and hundreds of homes were destroyed on Puerto Rico as the high winds battered the island before moving off the coast.

“When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed,” Abner Gomez, the director of the island's emergency management agency, known by its Spanish language acronym AEMEAD, said. “It's a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló had said in the morning that Hurricane Maria would be an "extremely violent phenomenon." He later tweeted as the storm headed offshore: “The danger continues - there are flood warnings for the whole of Puerto Rico”

Maria is the strongest storm to hit the 3.4 million people living on the US territory in decades - and the second strongest ever behind the 1928 San Felipe Segundo hurricane, which killed more than 300 people.

Puerto Rican authorities had warned residents that rescue and emergency workers would be unable to go out if winds exceeded 50 mph (80 kmh) and thousands had made their way into 500 shelters across the island.

The high winds brought down trees and lampposts, ripped roofs from houses and meant that streets were turned into torrents of debris as the flood waters rolled in. News pictures showed whole streets flooded in areas of the capital San Juan - such as the Hato Rey neighbourhood.

Rainfall dumped on Puerto Rico had ranged between 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 cm), with up to 25 inches (66 cm) across portions of the eastern interior, the US National Weather Service said. Flash flooding continued across much of the island, with major rivers and tributaries out of their banks, it said.

The Dominican Republic was due to hurricane conditions into Thursday. Maria, which weakened into a category two hurricane after passing over Puerto Rico, could regain major hurricane status by Thursday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest advisory.

At one point a rare Category 5 storm, Maria has killed at least seven people on the island of Dominica government officials said, and two people in the French territory of Guadeloupe as it barreled through the Caribbean.

Maria ripped off roofs and downed trees as it passed west of St Croix, home to about half of the US Virgin Islands' 103,000 residents.

Some 65 to 70 per cent of the buildings on St. Croix were damaged by the storm, said Holland Redfield, who served six terms in the U.S. Virgin Islands senate.

In Guadeloupe Many roads were blocked and 40 per cent of the population was without power, the overseas territories ministry said.

Hurricane Maria: Aerial footage shows Dominica destruction

The island of Dominica, with a population of about 73,000, was devastated by Maria earlier in the week. Hartley Henry, principal adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that “the country is in a daze.”

Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, also left a trail of destruction in several Caribbean islands and Florida this month, killing at least 84 people in the Caribbean and the US mainland.

Having also been hit by Hurricane Irma, Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas will have to prepare for hurricane winds from Maria later in the week.

Even though Irma passed north of Puerto Rico, it knocked out power for 70 per cent of the island, and killed at least three people.

Puerto Rican officials had looked to put a brave face on the threat from Hurricane Maria before it it hit. "God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane. Together we will lift up." Governor Rosselló tweeted.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz warned that there will be massive damage to the city but lauded the spirit of the city's people to make it through the storm.

But it is clear that clean-up will take some time. Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 percent of the 454 homes in a neighbourhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. The fishing community on San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” he said.

The island instituted new building codes in 2011, which will likely save buildings and homes in San Juan, but the much of the cost where Maria hit will require rebuilding.

But, how a Puerto Rican government that filed for bankruptcy in May 2017 will be able to rebuild remains to be seen. The island is grappling with the largest municipal debt crisis in US history, while the public utility has also filed for bankruptcy protection amid disputes with creditors

President Donald Trump did declare an emergency in Puerto Rico ahead of Hurricane Maria and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers as well as the US military are set to help the island in recovery efforts.

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