Hurricane Maria churns toward Turks and Caicos and leaves 32 dead

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria churned toward the Turks and Caicos on Friday after lashing Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands with winds and rain that destroyed homes, flooded streets, crippled economies and left at least 32 people dead.

Maria is the second major hurricane to hit the Caribbean this month and the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years. It knocked out the island’s power and several rivers hit record flood levels.

At least 15 people were killed in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día‏ newspaper reported. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told cable TV news channel CNN he had reports of at least 13 people on the island being killed.

“We have a lot of flooding,” he said in the interview, adding there “was a major disaster here in Puerto Rico.”

Fourteen deaths were reported on the island nation of Dominica, which has a population of about 71,000. Two others were killed in the French territory of Guadeloupe and one on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The death toll in the Caribbean is likely to rise when searches resume at daybreak.

Rossello imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew through Saturday for the island’s 3.4 million people. He said about 700 people have been rescued from floodwaters and communication was difficult with the southeastern part of the island.

Among those killed in Puerto Rico were eight people who drowned in Toa Baja, about 20 miles (32 km) west of San Juan, Mayor Bernardo Márquez told the newspaper.

Three elderly sisters were killed by a mudslide on Wednesday in the mountainous central municipality of Utuado, El Nuevo Día said, citing relatives and the mayor of Utuado.

In the heart of the island’s capital San Juan, which has a fort and buildings from the Spanish colonial era, the storm left a trail of wreckage. Toppled trees cut power lines and streets were turned into rivers.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters the island had been “totally obliterated” and he planned to visit.

Puerto Rico was already facing the largest municipal debt crisis in U.S. history.

A team of judges overseeing its bankruptcy has advised involved parties to put legal proceedings on hold indefinitely as the island recovers, said a source familiar with the proceedings.

STORM SURGES

Maria is a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of up to 125 mph (205 kph). It was 35 miles (55 km) east-northeast of Grand Turk Island as of 5 a.m. EDT, the…

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