Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity after Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm’s devastation.

Two days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions on the island faced the dispiriting prospect of weeks and perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million, leaving many without power.

The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

“You cannot live here without power,” said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to leave Saturday for the U.S. mainland to live there temporarily.

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Like many Puerto Ricans, Llanos does not have a generator or gas stove. “The only thing I have is a flashlight,” he said, shaking his head. “This is never going to return to normal.”

Maria’s death toll across the Caribbean, meanwhile, climbed to at least 19, nearly all of them on the hard-hit island of Dominica. In Puerto Rico, the government said at least two were killed but media on the island were reporting additional deaths and the actual toll appeared unlikely to be known for days.

As of Friday morning, Maria was moving near the Turks and Caicos with winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The storm was expected to move near or just east of the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday. From there, it is expected to veer into the open Atlantic, no threat to the U.S. mainland. Maria was also expected to weaken over the next two days.

In Puerto Rico, the grid was in sorry shape long before Maria — and Hurricane Irma two weeks ago — struck.

The territory’s $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

“We knew this was going to happen given the vulnerable infrastructure,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

“There’s a…

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