Hurricane Maria blasts Puerto Rico with high winds and flooding

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in nearly 90 years, downing power to most of the island, flooding some areas and ripping windows out in the capital, San Juan.

Maria, the second major hurricane to roar through the Caribbean this month, made landfall near Yabucoa, on the southeast of the island of 3.4 million people. Thousands of people were seeking safety in shelters.

Carrying winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), driving high storm surges and drenching rains, Maria’s eye was located about 25 miles (40 km) west of San Juan shortly before 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

(For a graphic on Hurricane Maria click tmsnrt.rs/2ypIw6x)

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.

Up to 90 percent of the island was without electricity, El Nuevo Dia newspaper quoted Governor Ricardo Rossello as saying.

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

Maria killed at least two people in the French territory of Guadeloupe as it barreled through the Caribbean. It devastated the tiny island nation of Dominica and caused widespread damage on St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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 U.S. mainland.

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

Maria was expected to dump as much as 25 inches (66 cm) 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 9 feet (2.7 meters.) 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.

People walk on the street next to debris after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama,…

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