Tuesday 20 February 2018

Battered Caribbean counts cost of storm Maria

Locals survey the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica. Photo: Getty Images
Locals survey the damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica. Photo: Getty Images
Damaged power lines after Hurricane Maria left a scene of destruction in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Photo: Reuters

Nick Allen

Puerto Rico's 3.5 million people have been warned they could be without electricity for months after the island was battered by Hurricane Maria.

US President Donald Trump said the US territory had been "absolutely obliterated" and was in "very, very, very tough shape".

He declared a major disaster, making federal government funds available, and said he would visit soon. He said the recovery would start with "great gusto".

Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of San Juan, the capital, said: "The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there. We're looking at four to six months without electricity."

In the capital, towering eucalyptus trees fell and residents described spending many hours huddled in stairwells as the storm raged.

It blew out windows at hospitals and police stations, destroyed homes, and turned some streets into roaring rivers.

Communities across Puerto Rico remained isolated and without communication as uprooted trees blocked roads and people resorted to rafts and kayaks to get around.

Ricardo Rossello, the island's governor, also said it may take months to restore power and he issued a nightly curfew amid widespread warnings of flash floods and landslides. There was one death reported so far after a man was struck by a piece of flying wood, he said.

Rescuers were also searching for a boat that went missing off the island, with two adults and two children aboard, after it sent a distress signal.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, said: "Months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this."

Puerto Rico's electric grid was already crumbling before Maria hit, and an economic crisis had already sparked an exodus of nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to the US mainland.

Edwin Rosario (79), a retired government worker, said: "Only us old people are left. A lot of young people have already gone. If we don't unite, we're not going to bounce back."

Before hitting Puerto Rico the storm devastated the island of Dominica where 15 people were killed, with another 20 still missing.

Damaged

After Puerto Rico, it went on to flood parts of the Dominican Republic where 1,255 homes were damaged.

It was expected to pass near the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the southeastern Bahamas, last night and today.

Maria followed less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc across the Caribbean. Maria was ranked a Category 4 storm, near the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of up to 250kmh, when it hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years. It tore roofs from buildings, snapped power lines and turned roadways into torrents laden with debris as it cut a diagonal swath across the island.

The entire island was under a flash flood warning yesterday as the storm was forecast to dump 50cm to 76cm of rain on much of Puerto Rico today, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

Maria weakened as it went over land in Puerto Rico and picked up strength early yesterday as it passed over warm Caribbean waters.

It was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 185kmh about 90km north of Punta Cana, on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, early yesterday morning, the NHC said.

Punta Cana was hit with wind gusts of 93kmh and Maria was forecast to bring storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels of 1.83 metres, in the Dominican Republic, it said. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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