Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico: Hurricane Maria, considered to be the strongest storm to slam Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, has destroyed hundreds of homes and knocked out power to nearly the entire island of 3.4 million people.
When the storm made landfall in the U.S. territory early Wednesday as a Category 4 storm with 145-mph winds, it brought down cell towers and power lines, and ripped roofs straight off of homes.
Maria weakened to a Category 2 storm Wednesday evening, but has the possibility of regaining major hurricane status by Thursday.
The massive power outage came after Hurricane Irma tore through the island weeks ago — leaving more than 1 million people without electricity. As of Maria’s arrival, more than 70,000 residents still had no electricity.
Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal town of Catano, said 80 percent of the 454 homes in his neighborhood were destroyed.
Delgado said it’ll take “months and months and months and months” for Puerto Rico to recover from the devastating storm.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged people to have faith: “We are stronger than any hurricane. Together, we will rebuild.” He later asked President Donald Trump to declare the island a disaster zone, a step that would open the way to federal aid.
More than 11,000 people were in shelters, Rossello said.
In San Juan, Maria’s fierce winds toppled trees and ripped away outside materials of high-rise buildings in the city, while people calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island’s southern region.
Widespread flooding was reported across the island, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighborhoods and many streets turned into rivers.
Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM.
The storm also spawned torrential rainfall across the island, leading to flash flood emergency warnings.
Videos posted to Twitter showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of Guayama on the island’s southern coast and other locations.
Many feared extended power outages on the island would further sink businesses struggling amid a recession that has lasted more than a decade.
“This is going to be a disaster,” Jean Robert Auguste, who owns two French restaurants and sought shelter at a San Juan hotel, told the Associated Press. “We haven’t made any money this month.”
As Maria approached, President Donald Trump offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!”
Maria ties for the eighth strongest storm in Atlantic history, when measured by wind speed. Coming in second is this year’s Irma, which had 185 mph winds and killed 38 people in the Caribbean and another 36 in the U.S. earlier this month.
The National Weather Service office in San Juan, Puerto Rico, warned of “catastrophic damage” from Maria’s winds, as well as “life-threatening rainfall flooding having possible devastating impacts” in a hurricane local statement issued Tuesday evening.
“Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to the NWS.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.
A report from a U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter mission late Tuesday confirmed Maria had strengthened as it neared the U.S. Virgin Islands as maximum sustained winds increased to 175 mph and central pressure dropped to 909 mb, a lower pressure than Irma had at any time.
“This is the lowest pressure for any Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Dean’s 905-mb minimum central pressure in August 2007,” Dean said. “It is also the 10th-most-intense hurricane in Atlantic Basin history, based on minimum central pressure.”
The storm’s center passed near St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to insist that people remain alert. St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds, Mapp said.
“For folks in their homes, I really recommend that you not be in any kind of sleepwear,” he said during a brief news conference. “Make sure you have your shoes on. Make sure you have a jacket around. Something for your head in case your roof should breach. … I don’t really recommend you be sleeping from 11 o’clock to 4 (a.m.). … Be aware of what’s going on around you.”