Rescue workers inundated as Puerto Rico recovers from strongest hurricane in over 80 years

Rescuers are hard at work today after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, knocking out electricity to the entire island and triggering 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 on Wednesday morning as a category four storm with 155 mph winds, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years.

Uprooted trees and widespread flooding blocked many roads 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 curfew imposed by the governor to ensure everyone’s safety.

"This is going to be a historic event for Puerto Rico," said Abner Gomez, the island’s emergency management director.

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

Previously a category five with 175mph winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the US, based on its central pressure.

It was even stronger than Hurricane Irma.

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 ruined 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."

Hurricane Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico on September 6, leaving more than one million people without power but causing no deaths or widespread damage like it did on nearby islands.

Maria, however, 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% of houses in a small fishing community near the San Juan Bay, which unleashed a storm surge of more than four 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, said.

Maria has caused at least 10 deaths across the Caribbean, including seven 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.

Maria weakened to a category two storm later in the day but re-strengthened to category three status early on Thursday with winds of 115mph.

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.

AP


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