By DANICA COTO
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico pummeled the island Wednesday, tearing off roofs and sending doors flying from hinges as officials warned Hurricane Maria would decimate the power company’s crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.
Maria, which has killed at least nine in the Caribbean, made landfall early Wednesday in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph winds, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.
People calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island’s southern region. Meanwhile, widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan, with water running down one apartment’s interior staircase.
“This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance. Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM. The storm was moving across Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning at 10 mph, with a gust of 113 mph reported in the capital of San Juan, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Maria, which had previously been a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds, hit Puerto Rico as the third strongest storm to make landfall in the United States based on a key measurement that meteorologists use: air pressure. The lower the central pressure a storm the stronger it is and Maria’s pressure was 917 millibars, lower than Irma’s U.S. landfall of 929 millibars in the Florida Keys earlier this month.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.
As Maria approached, U.S. President Donald Trump offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!”
More than 4,400 people were…