Thursday 19 April 2018

Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity after Maria

A flooded street in the Juana Matos neighbourhood in Catano municipality, Puerto Rico. Photo: Dave Graham/Reuters
A flooded street in the Juana Matos neighbourhood in Catano municipality, Puerto Rico. Photo: Dave Graham/Reuters

Danica Coto

Puerto Rico faced another night of darkness yesterday, two days after Hurricane Maria hurled rain and wind at the US territory and knocked out its electricity grid.

Residents feared power could be out for weeks - or even months - and wondered how their battered island would cope.

Some of the island's 3.4 million residents planned to go to the US to temporarily escape the desolation left by the destruction. At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: additional rain - up to 15cm - is expected through today.

Neida Febus wandered around her San Juan neighbourhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to anyone in need. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said that she didn't think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.

"This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other," she said.

The National Weather Service in San Juan said yesterday the north-western municipalities of Isabela and Quebradillas, home to about 70,000 people, were being evacuated because a nearby dam was failing.

The death toll in Puerto Rico stood at six but was likely to rise. Héctor M Pesquera, of the Department of Public Safety, said the casualties occurred in the municipalities of Utuado, Toa Baja, and Bayamón.

"At the moment these are fatalities we know of. We know of other potential fatalities through unofficial channels that we haven't been able to confirm," Mr Pesquera said.

Diana Jaquez, one of the owners of the Coquette hair salon in the Santurce area, assessed damage from the storm with her husband. Their children played nearby.

She said she hadn't decided whether to leave Puerto Rico. "Business has dropped a lot," she said.

"People have other priorities than looking good."

Outside her store, more than 100 people stood in line waiting to get money out of an ATM machine and hoping there would still be some cash left when their turn came.

The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat.

Maria's death toll across the Caribbean rose to at least 27.

Along with six deaths on Puerto Rico, at least 15 were killed on hard-hit Dominica.

Other islands reporting deaths were Haiti, three; Guadeloupe, two; and Dominican Republic, one.

Irish Independent

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