United States

Puerto Rico cut off after Maria, without power throughout the island

The island's airport is closed and the electricity grid collapsed leaving families in the dark about the fate of their relatives. President Donald Trump approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico to speed up recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with military planes flying to the island daily carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.
21 Sep 2017 – 12:40 PM EDT

In photos: This is what Hurricane María left behind in Puerto Rico

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Island officials painted a grim picture on Thursday of widespread destruction after Huricane Maria tore off roofs, knocked out electricity to the entire island and triggered landslides and floods.

The extent of the damage is unknown given that dozens of municipalities remained isolated and without communication after Maria hit the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years. Many homes were also without water.

Uprooted trees and widespread flooding blocked many highways and streets across the island, creating a maze that forced drivers to go against traffic and past police cars that used loudspeakers to warn people they must respect a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed by the governor to ensure everyone’s safety.

President Donald Trump approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “This is an event without precedent,” he added.

Puerto Rico’s electric grid was crumbling amid lack of maintenance and a dwindling staff even before the hurricanes knocked out power. Many now believe it will take weeks, if not months, to restore power.

The island's electricity grid was already hard hit by Hurricane Irma which passed nearby two weeks ago. The island is ill-prepared to deal with a major natural disaster as it is still reeling from a 10-year economic recession that has spurred nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to flee to the U.S. mainland.

Maria blew out windows at some hospitals and police stations, turned some streets into roaring rivers and destroyed hundreds of homes across Puerto Rico, including 80 percent of houses in a small fishing community near the San Juan Bay, which unleashed a storm surge of more than 4 feet.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.


Previously a Category 5 with 175 mph (281 kph) winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S.. It was even stronger than Hurricane Irma when that storm roared into the Florida Keys earlier this month.

In the capital of San Juan, towering eucalyptus trees fell nearly every other block over a main road dotted with popular bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, some of which were damaged. Outside a nearby apartment building, 40-year-old tourism company operator Adrian Pacheco recounted how he spent eight hours in a stairwell huddled with 100 other residents when the hurricane ripped the storm shutters off his building and decimated three balconies.

“I think people didn’t expect the storm to reach the point that it did,” he said. “Since Irma never really happened, they thought Maria would be the same.”

The sound of chain saws began to fill the silence that spread across San Juan late Wednesday afternoon as firefighters began to remove trees and used small bulldozers to lift toppled concrete light posts. Some neighbors pitched in to help clear the smaller branches, including Shawn Zimmerman, a 27-year-old student from Lewistown, Pennsylvania who moved to Puerto Rico nearly two years ago.

“The storm didn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s the devastation. I get goosebumps. It’s going to take us a long time.”

Maria has caused at least 19 deaths across the Caribbean, including 15 in the hard-hit island of Dominica and two in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico’s governor told CNN one man died after being hit by flying debris. No further details were available, and officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

In Dominica, an estimated 95 percent of the roofs were blown off in some towns, including Mahaut and Portsmouth.

Maria weakened to a Category 2 storm later in the day but re-strengthened to Category 3 status early Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph). According to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the storm was centered about 105 miles (175 kilometers) east-northeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, and moving northwest at 9 mph (15 kph). The eye of the storm is expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday.

In photos: This is what Hurricane María left behind in Puerto Rico

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