SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico pummeled the island yesterday as officials warned it would decimate the power company’s crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.
Maria made landfall early yesterday in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph (250 kph) winds, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.
Maria had previously been a Category 5 storm with 175 mph (281 kph) winds.
“This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance. Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM. The storm was moving across Puerto Rico yesterday morning at 10 mph (17 kph), with a gust of 113 mph (182 kph) reported in the capital of San Juan, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Maria ties for the eighth strongest storm in Atlantic history, when measured by wind speed. Coming in second is this year’s Irma, which had 185 mph (300 kph) winds and killed 38 people in the Caribbean and another 36 in the U.S. earlier this month.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.
The storm’s center passed near or over St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to insist that people remain alert. St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds, Mapp said.
Maria killed one person in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe when a tree fell on them on Tuesday, and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, officials said.
About 40 per cent of the island – 80,000 homes – were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.
The storm also blew over the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica late Monday, where Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page, including that his own roof had blown away.
The storm knocked out communications for the entire island, leaving anyone outside Dominica struggling to determine the extent of damage, though it was clearly widespread..
Flooding was a big concern, given the island’s steep mountains, cut through with rivers that rage even after a heavy rain. Dominica was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people and destroyed more than 370 homes in August 2015.
In a statement yesterday, Skerrit said the Commonwealth of Dominica is still isolated with no means of communications and transportation connections to the neghbouring islands..
The prime minister also said with recovery now underway he has declared a state of emergency and a curfew from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm daily.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, seven individuals have been confirmed dead .
“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed, as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the prime minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today – Wednesday,” said Hartley Henry , the prime minister’s principal advisor.
On Tuesday, the executive director of the Barbados based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), Ronald Jackson, said that based on historical knowledge of Dominica and the fact that the eye of storm swept across the island from southeast to northwest, there would be “billions of dollars” in damage, with virtually every one of the estimated 70,000 population directly or indirectly impacted.