Fears of dam collapse add to Puerto Rico’s misery after hurricane

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s governor met with mayors from around the ravaged island on Saturday after surveying damage to an earthen dam in the northwestern part of the U.S. territory that was threatening to collapse from flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Some 70,000 people who live downstream from the compromised dam, forming a lake on the rain-swollen Guajataca River, were under order to evacuate, with the structure in danger of bursting at any time.

“We saw directly the damage to the Guajataca dam,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Spanish-language Twitter message on Saturday while reinforcing his request that people leave the area as soon as possible.

“The fissure has become a significant rupture,” Rossello said separately at a press conference on Saturday.

The U.S. National Weather Service said on its website that the dam was still in danger of failing and triggering life-threatening flash floods.

“Stay away or be swept away,” it warned.

Meanwhile, people across the island were struggling to dig out from the devastation left by the storm, which killed at least 25 people, including at least 10 in Puerto Rico, as it churned across the Caribbean, according to officials and media reports.

“To all Puerto Ricans, please know we will get back up,” the governor tweeted as he met with mayors in the territory to identify their most urgent needs. “Together with the mayors, as one government.4Puerto Rico”

In a development that could help the recovery effort, the Port of San Juan reopened, according to a Twitter message from the agency that operates it, allowing ships to unload supplies.

Severe flooding, structural damage to homes and virtually no electric power were three of the most pressing problems facing Puerto Ricans, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a tour of the island.

”It’s a terrible immediate situation that requires assistance from the federal government – not just financial assistance, said Cuomo, whose state is home to millions of people of Puerto Rican descent.

“It is a dangerous situation today and it’s going to be a long-term reconstruction issue for months,” Cuomo, a Democrat and potential 2020 presidential candidate, told CNN.

PATH OF DESTRUCTION

Maria, the second major hurricane to savage the Caribbean this month and the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly a century, carved a path of destruction on Wednesday. It knocked out electricity, apart…

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