Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Maria destroys homes, triggers flooding in Puerto Rico

Published:Thursday | September 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
A woman covers herself with a plastic bag as she makes her way to work as Hurricane Maria approaches the coast of Bavaro, Dominican Republic yesterday.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP):

The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island, and triggered heavy flooding yesterday in an onslaught that could plunge the US territory deeper into financial crisis.

Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155mph (250kph).

It was expected to punish the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.

"Once we're able to go outside, we're going to find our island destroyed," warned Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico's emergency management director. "The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything in its path."

It was the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico felt the wrath of a hurricane.

There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries on the island.

As people waited it out in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms, and closets, Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs, and unloaded at least 20 inches (50 centimetres) of rain.

Widespread flooding was reported, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighbourhoods and many streets turned into rivers. People calling local radio stations reported that doors were being torn off their hinges and a water tank flew away.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 per cent of the 454 homes in a neighbourhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. The fishing community on San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than four feet, he said.

As of 5 p.m. EDT, Maria had weakened into a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110mph (175kph). It was centered just off the northwestern corner of Puerto Rico, moving at 12mph (19kph).

It was expected to pass off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic late yesterday into today.