SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Hurricane Maria, the second major hurricane to wreak havoc in the Caribbean this month, skirted by the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday and was blamed for fresh flooding on Puerto Rico two days after ravaging the U.S. island territory.
The storm, which ranked as the most powerful hurricane to strike Puerto Rico in 90 years, has killed at least 25 people there and on other Caribbean islands, according to government officials and local news media accounts.
U.S. weather forecasters and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello warned that a dam on the rain-swollen Guajataca River in northwestern Puerto Rico was failing, causing flash flooding in the area.
“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION,” the National Weather Service’s San Juan office said on Twitter. “Buses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can.”
Roughly 70,000 people live in the area downstream from the dam that was under evacuation, Rossello said in a late-afternoon news conference.
Maria struck Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million inhabitants, as a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and cut a path of destruction through the center of the island on Wednesday, ripping roofs from buildings and triggering widespread flooding. Torrential downpours from the storm sent several rivers to record levels.
Puerto Rico officials said on Friday that six people had been confirmed killed by the storm: Three died in landslides in Utuado, in the island’s mountainous center; two drowned in flooding in Toa Baja, west of San Juan, and one died in Bayamon, also near San Juan, after being stuck by a piece of wind-blown lumber.
Earlier news media reports had put the island’s death toll as high as 15.
“We know of other potential fatalities through unofficial channels that we haven’t been able to confirm,” said Hector Pesquera, the government’s secretary of public safety.
In San Juan, people worked to clear debris from the streets on Friday and some began to reopen businesses, though they wondered how long they could operate without power and with limited inventory.
“There’s no water, no power, nothing,” said Rogelio Jimenez, a 34-year-old pizzeria worker.
“We’re opening today,” he said, estimating that the restaurant had enough supplies to last a week. “If there’s nothing after that, we’ll close.”