Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico after killing nine in Caribbean

Storm carrying winds of up to 250km/h damages buildings and cuts power on island

 

Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years, turning streets into debris-laden rivers, damaging buildings and cutting power, after killing at least nine people in the Caribbean.

Maria, the second major hurricane to roar through the Caribbean this month, was carrying winds of up to 250km/h, high storm surges and drenching rains when it made landfall near Yabucoa, on the southeast of the island of 3.4 million people.

Rivers burst their banks and the winds downed trees and damaged homes and buildings, including several hospitals, according to local media. News pictures showed whole blocks flooded in the Hato Rey neighbourhood of the capital, San Juan.

Electricity was out across the island, El Nuevo Dia newspaper said.

Thousands of people were seeking safety in shelters.

Maria lost some of its power as it moved over land, but its top winds were still 220km/h as it headed off the island, the US National Hurricane Center said. Shortly before 11am Easter Time (4pm Irish time), the eye of the storm was about 40km west of San Juan, the centre said.

Maria killed at least seven people on the island of Dominica, government officials said, 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.

Dangled haphazardly

Broken windows, mangled awnings and gutters dangled haphazardly from buildings in San Juan or were ripped off entirely. Toilets bubbled noisily and belched foul air as the hurricane rumbled through the city’s water and sewage lines.

In the southcoast city of Guayama, west of where Maria blew ashore, storm waters turned streets into fast-running rivers carrying wind-downed debris.

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 the US mainland.

“God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane,” governor Ricardo Rossello said on Twitter on Wednesday. “Together we will rise again.”

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 heavy rainfall could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, it added.

“This a catastrophe we’re going through,” said Madeline Morales (62), a saleswoman in San Juan who abandoned her coastal home before the storm hit to seek refuge in a hotel on higher ground.

Maria was set to be the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, when the San Felipe Segundo hurricane slammed the island and killed about 300 people, the National Weather Service said.

So far, the hurricane looked unlikely to threaten the continental United States.

– (Reuters)