‘Storm of the century’ Maria pummels Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on Wednesday and left the entire island without power, bringing deadly winds and pounding rain that sent thousands scurrying to shelters.

Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million people.

The storm was blamed for 10 deaths in the Caribbean, including a man in northern Puerto Rico’s Bayamon who died after being struck by a board he had used to cover his windows, government spokeswoman Yennifer Alvarez told AFP.

Though the storm had moved back out to sea, authorities early Thursday declared a flash flood warning for all of Puerto Rico.

“If possible, move to higher ground NOW!” the National Weather Service station in San Juan said in a tweet, calling the flooding “catastrophic.”

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria “the most devastating storm in a century.”

“We have a lot of flooding, a lot of infrastructure damage, telecommunication system is partially down, energy infrastructure is completely down,” he told CNN.

Rossello added that authorities did not have much information from the island’s southeast, which was “virtually disconnected” after taking a direct hit from Maria when it made landfall.

Tens of thousands of people had hunkered down in shelters in the capital San Juan as the storm approached. Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz broke down in tears as she spoke of the utter devastation she had witnessed.

“Many parts of San Juan are completely flooded,” Yulin Cruz told reporters in one of the shelters, its roof swaying while she spoke.

“Our life as we know it has changed.”

Maria made landfall as a Category Four storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, initially packing winds of a little over 150 mph (240 kph) before easing slightly as it powered towards San Juan.

“The wind sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs!” Mike Theiss wrote on Twitter, sheltering in a safe room in the eye of the storm.

Imy Rigau, who was riding out the storm in her apartment in San Juan, said water cascaded through her ceiling.

“We are taking refuge in the hallway as there is about a foot (30 cm) of water in my apartment,” she told AFP.

500 shelters

Many of the most vulnerable of Puerto Rico’s residents took cover in the 500 shelters set up around the island.

Rossello imposed a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew until Saturday and warned of flooding and mudslides.

“I urge the people of Puerto Rico to commit to peace, understanding, and good judgment during these difficult times for our island,” he said.

As night fell, there were reports of looting and authorities said 10 people had been arrested.

Puerto Rico’s most catastrophic hurricane was in 1928 when Hurricane Okeechobee — also known as San Felipe Segundo — killed 300 people.

Although engineers had managed to restore power to most of the island after the recent Hurricane Irma, Maria caused a new black-out across the island.

Brock Long, who heads the US federal government’s emergency agency FEMA, said it could take days for power to be restored on Puerto Rico and the smaller US Virgin Islands which have also been badly hit.

Rossello’s assessment for when the lights might come back on was much more grim.

“It depends on the damage to the infrastructure,” he told CNN. “I’m afraid it’s probably going to be severe. If it is… we’re looking at months as opposed to weeks or days.”

Dominica devastation

The US and British Virgin Islands — still struggling to recover from the devastation of Irma — are also on alert, along with the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Dominican Republic.

On Wednesday evening, the hurricane was about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and had been downgraded to a Category Two storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Maria has already torn through several Caribbean islands, leaving at least seven people dead on Dominica.

Communications to Dominica have been largely cut, and its airports and ports have been closed.

But an advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who spoke to the premier by satellite phone, painted a picture of devastation on the island, where around 73,000 people live.

“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane,” Hartley Henry said in a statement.

Reports from rural communities spoke of a “total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops,” added Henry.

“The country is in a daze — no electricity, no running water — as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities and definitely no landline or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite a while.”

In the French territory of Guadeloupe, one person was killed by a falling tree as Maria hit, while another died on the seafront.

At least two are missing after their boat sank off the French territory, while 40 percent of households were without power.

There were fears that Maria could wreak fresh havoc on islands that were already flattened by Category Five Hurricane Irma earlier in the month.

Reports suggested St Martin, a French-Dutch island that was among the most severely hit by Irma with 14 dead, had escaped the worst this time around.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Hector Retamal
Hector Retamal works from Hati. AFP Staff Photojournalist based in China. Covering news and stories for Agence France Presse. My tweets do not always reflect AFP views. Hector Retamal has over 432 followers on Twitter.
Advertisting

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories