Even after weakening to a category 4 storm shortly before making landfall along the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria caused unprecedented devastation to the cash-strapped island and knocking out electricity for all of its 3.4 million residents. Worse still, the island’s governor has said it could be months before power is restored to all customers, according to the Associated Press.
The strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years tore off roofs and doors and caused flooding across the island – including in downtown San Juan, including the capital’s Hato Rey financial district. Its 20+ inches of rain, 9 nine-foot storm surge and 155 mph winds hammered the island’s fragile power grid, which had yet to be fully repaired from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma just two weeks ago.
Many of residents had yet to see their power restored after Irma’s assault, and thousands remained in government-run shelters.
Rivers overflowed and the winds downed trees and damaged homes and buildings, including several hospitals. The storm slowly lost power as it traversed the island and was recently downgraded to a category 3 storm after its windspeeds slowed to 115 mph, according to Bloomberg.
Maria and its life-threatening winds are expected to linger over the island for between 12 and 24 hours.
Widespread flooding was reported across the island, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighborhoods 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.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said more than 11,000 people, and nearly 600 pets, were staying in government-run shelters.
In one neighborhood, nearly 80% of homes were destroyed, according to initial estimates.
Felix Delgado, mayor of the city of Catano on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, told a local TV station that 80 percent of the homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed.
El Nuevo Dia newspaper reported that 80 percent of homes in a small fishing community near San Juan were damaged, and that an emergency medical station in the coastal town of Arecibo lost its roof, while communication was severed with several emergency management posts. A hospital and a police station reported broken windows, and a tree fell on an ambulance.
Maria killed at least seven people on the island of Dominica, government officials said, and two people in the French territory of Guadeloupe as it barreled through the Caribbean. It also caused widespread damage on St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. By comparison, Hurricane Irma killed 84 people when it tore through the Caribbean two weeks ago.
Maria dumped as much as 25 inches of rain on the island, the NHC said. Storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels, could be up to 9 feet. The heavy rainfall could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, it added.
"This a catastrophe we're going through," said Madeline Morales, 62, a saleswoman in San Juan who abandoned her coastal home before the storm hit to seek refuge in a hotel on higher ground.
Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, when the San Felipe Segundo hurricane hammered the island, leaving about 300 people dead, according to the NWS. Maria has so far killed at least nine people across the Caribbean, including 7 in Dominica and 2 in Guadeloupe.
Before hitting Puerto Rico, Maria ripped off roofs and downed trees as it passed west of St. Croix, home to about half of the U.S. Virgin Islands' 103,000 residents, as a rare Category 5 storm, the top of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
Federal Reserve Chairwoman said that damage from Maria, Harvey and Irma would weigh on US GDP growth during the third quarter, though the effects would quickly dissipate. She expressed her sympathies for the victims, and her sympathies on behalf of the board.
Some 65 to 70 percent of the buildings on St. Croix were damaged by the storm, said Holland Redfield, who served six terms in the U.S. Virgin Islands senate.
Maria may cause $45 billion of damage across the Caribbean, with at least $30 billion of that in Puerto Rico, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia. he cost to Puerto Rico could reach at least 10 percent of its gross domestic product, said Joe Myers, founder and president of AccuWeather Inc. in State.
Governor Ricardo Rossello Wednesday asked President Donald Trump to declare Puerto Rico a disaster zone.