Puerto Rico faces weeks without electricity

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The sky was darkening Thursday afternoon as 10-year-old Sarah Jimenez laid out three plastic buckets on her grandmother’s patio in hopes of capturing rainwater.

“We can use it to at least flush the toilets,” she told her grandmother.

A day after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions of people 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 to light their homes, cook, pump water or run fans, air conditioners or refrigerators.

As a result, Jimenez and others hunted for gas canisters for cooking, collected rainwater or steeled 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.

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 Thursday night, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas early Friday.

From there, it is expected to veer into the open Atlantic, no threat to the U.S. mainland.

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.

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