Hurricane Maria thrashed parts of the Dominican Republic with heavy rain and high winds as it passed near its east and north coasts early Thursday after making a direct hit on Puerto Rico, where it causes severe flooding and cut power to the island.
Maria has killed at least 10 people while raging through the Caribbean, which was also hit earlier this month by another hurricane. The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it was headed toward the Turks and Caicos Islands later Thursday and the southeastern Bahamas, bringing dangerous storm surges and torrential rain.
It was classified a Category 5 storm when it struck Dominica on Monday night, ripping roofs off almost all structures on the island country, where seven people were confirmed dead. The toll is expected to climb when searches resume at daybreak.
Maria was a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of up to 250 km/h when it hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday. It is the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in nearly 90 years.
It ripped apart homes, snapped power lines and turned roadways into torrents laden with debris as it cut a diagonal swath across the island.
The entire island of 3.4 million people was under a flash flood warning early Thursday. The storm was forecast to dump 50 to 76 centimetres of rain on much of Puerto Rico through Friday, according to the NHC.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the only fatality immediately reported was a man struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds.
“It’s nothing short of a major disaster,” Rossello said in a CNN interview, adding it may take months for the island’s electricity to be completely restored.
U.S. President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on Thursday. The declaration makes federal funding available to residents affected by the storm and can help them access grants for temporary housing, home repairs, and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Maria weakened as it went over land in Puerto Rico but picked up strength again early Thursday as it passed over warm Caribbean waters.
Now a Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 185 km/h, it was about 150 kilometres north of Punta Cana, on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, at 8 a.m. ET,…