Hurricane Maria cuts power to all 3.4 million people on Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria rampaged across Puerto Rico as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years, knocking out power to the whole island of 3.4 million people after killing at least nine others across the Caribbean.
Maria, the second major hurricane to roar through the Caribbean this month, was carrying winds of up to 250kmh, when it made landfall near Yabucoa, on the southeast of the island.
It ripped the roofs off buildings and turned low-lying streets into rushing rivers of debris knocked down by winds.
Its winds downed trees and damaged homes and buildings, including several hospitals, local media reported. News pictures showed whole blocks flooded in the Hato Rey neighbourhood of the capital, San Juan.
Streets in San Juan's old town were left strewn with debris, from broken balconies and downed power lines to air conditioning units, shattered lamp posts, uprooted trees and dead birds.
"When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed," said Abner Gomez, director of the island's emergency management agency. "It's a system that has destroyed everything in its path."
Maria brought widespread and dangerous flooding across the island, the National Weather Service said.
Thousands of people had sought safety in shelters, a spokesman for Governor Ricardo Rossello said.
"God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane," Mr Rossello said on Twitter. "Together we will rise again."
By 2pm local time, Maria's centre was heading away and located just north of the island, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
As expected when hurricanes move over hilly or mountainous ground, it had lost strength. But with top winds of 185kmh, it was still a Category 3 on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, a major hurricane.
It was forecast to maintain strength as it passed the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic later last night.
At one point a rare Category 5 storm, Maria killed at least seven people on the island of Dominica and two people in the French territory of Guadeloupe as it barrelled through the Caribbean. It also caused widespread damage on St Croix, one of the US Virgin Islands.
Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, also left a trail of destruction in several Caribbean islands and Florida this month, killing at least 84 people in the Caribbean and on the US mainland.
Maria was expected to dump as much as 66cm of rain on parts of Puerto Rico, the NHC said. Storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels, could be up to 2.7 metres.
The Weather Undergound website said Maria was the second strongest hurricane ever recorded to hit Puerto Rico.