Puerto Rico, St. Croix devastated by powerful Hurricane Maria

By Dave Graham and Robin Respaut

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Deadly Hurricane Maria caused flooding in the Dominican Republic as it brushed past the country on Thursday after destroying buildings and knocking out power across the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and St. Croix.

The second major hurricane to rage through the Caribbean this month, Maria has killed at least 17 people and devastated several small islands, including St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominica.

Maria, now a Category 3 with sustained winds of up to 120 miles per hour (195 km per hour), was expected to pass near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night and Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Officials in Puerto Rico were still assessing the damage after Maria slammed the island on Wednesday with winds of up to 155 mph (250 kph). Ranked a Category 4 storm near the top of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale when it made landfall, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the island in nearly 90 years.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters the storm “totally obliterated” the island, and that he planned to visit.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said there was one death reported so far, a man struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds.

“It’s nothing short of a major disaster,” he said in a CNN interview, adding it might take months for electricity to be completely restored to the island, which has a population of 3.4 million. He imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew that runs through Saturday.

Utility crews from the U.S. mainland were headed to Puerto Rico to help try to restore the battered power grid and the U.S. military sent both ground forces and aircraft to assist with search and rescue.

The storm hit as Puerto Rico is facing the largest municipal debt crisis in U.S. history. The team of judges overseeing its bankruptcy has advised involved parties to put legal proceedings on hold indefinitely as the island recovers from the damage, according to a source familiar with the legal proceedings.

In the historic heart of the island’s capital San Juan, which has a fort and buildings from the Spanish colonial era, the storm left a litter of debris.

Some roads were blocked off entirely by downed foliage as teams of firefighters and rescue officials began wielding chain saws to cut their way through the debris.

San Juan airport reopened for military and relief flights on Thursday, with plans for a limited resumption of commercial…

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