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The island also has major flooding and structural damage.
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The day after the worst storm to hit the island in 80 years, rescue teams continued searching for residents trapped in ravaged communities as the government warned that Hurricane Maria destroyed so much of the island it may be awhile before help arrives.

“We ask the people of Puerto Rico for patience, to prepare for at least 72 hours before there is a functioning government,” Abner Gómez, director of Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Agency, said at a Thursday press conference.

Hurricane Maria tore through the center of this island nation of 3.4 million people with 155-mph winds and a ferocity not seen here in nearly a century, crippling the government and plunging the entire country into darkness. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has said it may be three to six months before power is restored.

Places like Loíza, Canóvanas, Río Grande y Toa Baja were some of the hardest hit, and rescuers still struggled to reach those communities.

On Thursday, residents desperately tried to reach loved ones in the storm’s path, many of whom have been essentially cut off from the world. Rosselló earlier said he had not been able to reach his own father, former governor Pedro Rosselló.

Enormous downed trees blocked streets and wires crisscrossed roads in the Isla Verde neighborhood of San Juan. In nearby Condado, drivers slowly waded their cars through streets and highways still submerged in floodwaters.

Some motorists drove through oncoming traffic to avoid flooded highway lanes. Others turned around and went back. 

In the residential Carolina neighborhood, trees and debris clogged roads, but the concrete-slab homes in the district mostly withstood Maria’s battering winds. 

Still, the violence unleashed by the storm terrorized residents. 

Victor Ramirez, 78, said this was by far the worst storm he’d seen on the island. 

“You could hear people crying, they were scared,” he said as he surveyed the trees and debris the storm dumped on his street. “This one was devastating.”

Maria, now a Category 3 storm, was lashing the…