SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria is likely to have “destroyed” Puerto Rico, the island’s emergency director said Wednesday after the monster storm smashed ripped roofs off buildings and flooded homes across the economically strained U.S. territory.
Intense flooding was reported across the territory, particularly in San Juan, the capital, where many residential streets looked like rivers. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the entire island shortly after 12:30 a.m. ET. Yennifer Álvarez Jaimes, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s press secretary, told NBC News that all power across the island was knocked out.
“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés said at a news briefing. Rosselló imposed a 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, citing flood warnings and the importance of keeping streets clear for repair and rescue teams.
Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm near the town of Yabucoa just after 6 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. But it “appears to have taken quite a hit from the high mountains of the island,” and at 11 p.m. ET, it had weakened significantly to a Category 2 storm, moving away from Puerto Rico with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, the agency said.
Tropical storm conditions were expected to continue through the night, but hurricane warnings for the island were lifted late Wednesday as Maria moved away from its the northwest coast.
“The wind threat has decreased,” the hurricane center said, but the threat of rain-gorged floods remains “devastating to catastrophic,” it said. Airports in San Juan, Aguadilla and Ponce were ordered closed until Friday at the earliest because of flooding and debris, authorities said.
“Extreme rainfall flooding may prompt numerous evacuations and rescues,” the agency said. “Rivers and tributaries may overwhelmingly overflow their banks in many places with deep moving water.”
San Juan San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC that the devastation in the capital was unlike any she had ever seen.
“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Yulín said, adding: “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity” in Puerto Rico, home to nearly 3.5 million people.
“I’m just concerned that we may not get to everybody in time, and that is a great weight on my shoulders,” she said.
Rosanna Cerezo, a lawyer and radio host in metro San Juan, said the city was deluged. It sounded as though bombs were going off when the wind toppled trees around her house, she said.
Along the beachfront, she said, cement structures had been wrenched from their foundations as islanders scrambled for refuge.
“Rooftops collapsed, windows shattered,” Cerezo said in a text message. “People are huddled in hallways, closets, bathrooms.”
Once it’s back out over open water, Maria could re-strengthen to a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday night. It was expected to move near the coasts of the Dominican Republic and the Turks & Caicos islands, which were under hurricane warnings, and then begin drifting more northwestward by Friday.
Forecasters said it remained too early to know how close Maria will move to the U.S. mainland, but Domenica Davis, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said, “It looks like it will stay in the open waters of the Atlantic.”
President Donald Trump declared states of emergency in both territories, and the Coast Guard moved all its ships, aircraft and personnel out of harm’s way so they can quickly launch rescue missions once the storm passes, officials said.
Puerto Rico was already struggling to dig itself out of a historic financial crisis. Maria could destroy any progress the territory has made under a year-old economic rehab plan ─ and set it back further.
Maria was a Category 5 hurricane — the strongest there is — when it hit the Caribbean on Monday night, killing at least seven people on the island of Dominica and one person on Guadeloupe. At least two people were injured.
Hartley Henry, a senior adviser to Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said Wednesday that authorities on the island were only now getting a good picture of the destruction left in Maria’s wake.
“Until late last night, there was no means of accessing, or even communicating with, Dominicans,” Hartley said. With daylight, he said, authorities found “tremendous loss of housing and public buildings,” including severe damage to the island’s main hospital, where “patient care has been compromised.”
“The country is in a daze — no electricity, no running water — as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities, and definitely to landline or cellphone services on the island, and that will be for quite a while,” he said.
“In summary, the island has been devastated,” he said.
The last time the region was threatened by a storm this powerful was in 1928, when the Okeechobee Hurricane roared through the Virgin Islands and slammed Puerto Rico. It killed more than 300 people there and left a trail of destruction from one end. CONTINUE READING..