Puerto Rico Braces For Hit From Hurricane Dorian

A person is seen along the beach as Tropical Storm Dorian passes the island on August 28, 2019 in Luquillo, Puerto Rico.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP 

 

Hurricane Dorian bore down on Puerto Rico Wednesday as residents braced for a direct hit, the first since the island was ravaged two years ago by Hurricane Maria.

Even before the storm hit, an 80-year-old man was killed in a fall from a ladder while fixing a roof in a San Juan suburb, police said.

US forecasters said Dorian was upgraded to a hurricane from a tropical storm as it chugged near St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and was expected to make landfall in populous eastern Puerto Rico later Wednesday.

The latest path also puts Dorian on a trajectory to strike the Atlantic coast of Florida or Georgia by the weekend, with few obstacles to weaken it after Puerto Rico.

Residents of the seaside town of Fajardo, hard hit by Maria in 2017 and now directly in Dorian’s path, scrambled to get ready, fueling their vehicles and stocking up on basic necessities.

Miguel Melendez joked that the popular tourist area has become a “welcome committee” for hurricanes.

“I went to bed more or less at ease,” the 63-year-old retiree said. “But my sister woke me at 7:00 am to tell me: ‘Look, this has changed, this is headed to the house again.'”

Carmen Donos exited a Fajardo supermarket Wednesday morning with a shopping cart loaded with “my little basic things, and some sweets for when I’m anxious because the lights have gone out.”

The 49-year-old said she lost “absolutely everything” to flooding during Maria. “I definitely don’t want to go through that again.”

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, which is a US territory, authorizing federal assistance even as he lashed out at the island as “one of the most corrupt places on earth.

“Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt,” he said on Twitter.

Evacuations were getting underway, starting with people living in Maria-damaged homes that still have blue tarps for roofs, Carlos Acevedo Caballero, head of the local emergency management agency, told reporters.

Some 30,000 houses in Puerto Rico have blue tarps where once they had roofs.

Maria, a Category 4 hurricane, shattered the island’s already shaky power grid, overwhelmed public services and left many residents homeless.

A study accepted as valid by the government, which initially put the death toll at 64, estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the hurricane and the months of disruption that followed.

Dorian, though far less powerful than Maria, looms as the first major test of the island’s halting recovery.

As of 1800 GMT, the storm was over St Thomas, packing 75-mile-an-hour (120-kilometer) winds.

It is forecast to dump four to six inches of rain on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Agents ‘ready to respond’

Forecasters project that after it crosses Puerto Rico, the storm will move into the Atlantic. It is expected to follow a trajectory north of the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos before swinging west toward Florida sometime over the weekend.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned that Dorian could grow into a major hurricane as he warned people to get ready.

“All Floridians on the East Coast should have 7 days of supplies, prepare their homes and follow the track closely,” he tweeted.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said some 3,000 agents had been deployed in Puerto Rico and were “ready to respond.”

“Emergency communications, logistics & transportation teams are also positioned on the island,” it said Tuesday on Twitter.

Puerto Rico’s new governor, Wanda Vazquez, said the island was better prepared this time to respond to any contingency.

Former governor Ricardo Rossello was forced to resign last month in part because of criticism of his handling of the emergency created by Maria.

Puerto Rico Is One Of The Most Corrupt Places On Earth – Trump

Trump Opposes Halting Saudi Arms Deal After Journalist Death
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press before departing the White House for the G7 summit in Washington, DC.  NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP

 

President Donald Trump branded Puerto Rico “one of the most corrupt places on earth” Wednesday as the US island braced for its first major storm since being ravaged by Hurricane Maria two years ago.

Trump has feuded continuously with the US territory in the wake of Maria, where he was widely accused of failing to bring sufficient help. He says he did respond correctly and was never thanked properly.

As Tropical Storm Dorian bore down on the island, threatening a direct hit on population centers in the east, Trump decided to restoke the intensely personal row.

“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt,” he tweeted.

Trump complained that billions of dollars in previous aid had gone to “Crooked Pols. No good!”

He ended the outburst by tweeting: “And by the way, I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”

The island has been rocked by street protests this year that forced the resignation of its governor Ricardo Rossell in August.

AFP

Embattled Puerto Rico Governor Resigns After Protests

 

Puerto Rico’s embattled governor Ricardo Rossello announced his resignation late Wednesday following two weeks of massive protests triggered by the release of a text exchange in which he and others mocked gay people, women and hurricane victims.

Protesters who had thronged the streets near the governor’s mansion since the afternoon erupted into cheers as the news broke, shooting fireworks and waving Puerto Rican flags.

“I announce that I will be resigning from the governor’s post-effective Friday, August 2 at 5 pm,” Rossello said, in a video statement posted on the government’s Facebook page.

The rallies started July 13, when the Center for Investigative Journalism released 889 pages of text chats on the encrypted messaging app Telegram in which Rossello and 11 other male administration members criticized officials, politicians, and journalists.

“I trust that Puerto Rico will continue united and move forward as it always has,” Rossello said. “And I hope that this decision will serve as a call for reconciliation of citizens.”

Rossello said he made the decision taking into account the complaints against him and after discussion with his family.

Puerto Ricans had gathered at the gates of the governor’s mansion, known as La Fortaleza, in San Juan, ahead of the rumoured announcement.

“Everyone feels betrayed by him,” celebrity musician Rene Perez (“Residente”) told Spanish-language news channel Telemundo at the protest, shortly before the governor’s announcement.

He later tweeted his delight at Rossello’s resignation, saying the country had “discovered that what unites us is the heart”.

Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical “Hamilton” and whose family are from Puerto Rico, also praised the protesters on Twitter.

Other local celebrities, including pop star Ricky Martin and trap musician Benito Martinez (“Bad Bunny”), have also been leading support for the protests.

Impeachment on horizon

Forty-year-old Rossello said that Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez would temporarily succeed him.

Puerto Rican House Speaker Johnny Mendez had already convened an extraordinary legislative session that was to begin the impeachment process against Rossello on Thursday.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mendez had said that if the governor did not resign, he would be removed.

Rossello faced a full-blown political crisis over the chat scandal and corruption cases involving money that was supposed to help victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

More than a dozen other government officials have already resigned in the wake of the scandal.

Rossello had reiterated as recently as Tuesday that he would not resign, having already said he would not seek reelection in 2020.

Prior to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico suffered a serious fiscal crisis that forced the government to file for bankruptcy in May 2017.

Budget cuts prompted many Puerto Ricans to flee.

Combined with the post-hurricane exodus, Puerto Rico lost four percent of its population.

AFP

Puerto Ricans Launch Biggest Protest Yet Against Governor

 

Angry protesters blocked the main road in Puerto Rico’s capital on Monday as they launched what was expected to be the largest yet of a wave of demonstrations seeking the resignation of the US territory’s embattled governor.

Marching under sunny skies in San Juan, the demonstrators sang, chanted, danced and carried the territory’s red, white and blue flag with a lone star.

Altogether, hundreds of thousands were expected to turn out.

Puerto Ricans are up in arms over alleged corruption involving money meant to be for victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017, which left nearly 3,000 dead.

They are also upset about the recent release of text chats in which Governor Ricardo Rossello and other male government officials make fun of journalists, gays and hurricane victims, among other people.

Rossello ceded somewhat on Sunday, saying he will not seek reelection next year and step down as leader of his party. But he refused to resign from his post as governor.

“I have listened, and I am listening to you today,” Rossello said in a video posted on Facebook. “I have made mistakes and I have apologized.”

But protesters said they want more.

“It is not enough. He should surrender power to new leaders,” Isham Rodriguez, 36, said as he banged pots together while walking in Monday’s protest march.

“The governor has trampled on the rights of our country.”

Calls for impeachment

Pop singer Ricky Martin, who is gay, Puerto Rican and one of those ridiculed in the Rossello chats, also rejected the governor’s gesture and said he would take part in the protest.

“Ricardo Rossello, you are not only cynical, you are Machiavellian,” Martin wrote on social media. He urged lawmakers in Puerto Rico to begin impeachment proceedings against the governor.

The hundreds of pages of chats leaked two weeks ago also featured comments offensive to women. Days earlier, prosecutors ordered the arrest of six government officials accused of embezzling $15 million in hurricane reconstruction money.

Rossello had said in March that he would seek reelection in polls scheduled for November 2020, but reversed that position on Sunday.

He also said as lawmakers study the possibility of impeachment that he would face any eventual proceedings “in a responsible manner.”

Former governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla told Telemundo that Rossello “is buying time to see if the protests die down.”

On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in front of the governor’s residence, chanting slogans such as “They will not stop us” and holding signs that said “Ricky resign.”

“You have to go… to make change, you have to resign and have another, more capable person take your place,” protester Jose Maldonado told AFP.

Police fired tear gas at a crowd last week after a fire broke out near the government headquarters. Five protesters were arrested.

Puerto Rico was already in dire straits even before Hurricane Maria, which laid bare the disastrous state of its electrical grid.

An economic crisis prompted the territory to seek protection from creditors under US bankruptcy law.

Budget cuts — which, among other actions, forced the closure of schools — prompted many Puerto Ricans to flee the island.

Combined with the post-hurricane exodus from the island, Puerto Rico lost four percent of its population.

Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Death Toll Inflated By Democrats, Says Trump

 

US President Donald Trump addresses a Congressional Medal of Honor Society reception at the White House in Washington, DC, on September 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM

 

 

 

US President Donald Trump on Thursday rejected the official death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, saying it had been inflated to almost 3,000 as part of a plot to make him look bad.

“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump tweeted early Thursday. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths.”

“Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…” he said, going on to claim: “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.”

Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, a long-awaited independent investigation into the 2017 storm concluded last month. It was initially said to have killed just 64 people.

After nearly a year of controversy over the toll, the governor of Puerto Rico said the new estimate would now be considered the official death toll.

AFP

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Maria Killed 2,975 In Puerto Rico – Study

In this file photo taken on September 24, 2017 a house destroyed by hurricane winds is seen in Barranquitas, southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, following the passage of Hurricane Maria.  Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP

 

Hurricane Maria killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, according to the results of a long-awaited study commissioned by the US government, amid controversy over the true toll of the 2017 storm.

“The results of our epidemiological study suggest that, tragically, Hurricane Maria led to a large number of excess deaths throughout the island,” said principal investigator Carlos Santos-Burgoa, a professor of global health at George Washington University.

The study tracked excess deaths related to Hurricane Maria from September 2017 to February 2018, and found the toll was “22 percent higher than the number of deaths that would have been expected during that period in a year without the storm.”

The government’s long-standing official death toll from Maria has been just 64 for the island territory which is part of the United States.

A study by Harvard University earlier this year estimated around 4,600 had died in the three months following the storm.

Hurricane Maria Killed 4,600 In Puerto Rico – Study

An aerial view shows the flooded neighborhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017.  Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP

 

Hurricane Maria, which pummeled Puerto Rico in September 2017, is likely responsible for the deaths of more than 4,600 people, some 70 times more than official estimates, US researchers said Tuesday.

The government-provided death toll stands at just 64, but experts say an accurate count was complicated by the power outages and widespread devastation wreaked by the storm, which caused $90 billion in damage and is ranked as the third costliest cyclone in the United States since 1900.

Earlier independent investigations had put the true toll at closer to 1,000.

But the latest estimate, compiled by researchers at Harvard University, came back far higher — at 4,645 deaths from the day of the storm, September 20, until December 31, 2017.

For comparison, the death toll from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina — the costliest hurricane in US history — was far lower, estimated at 1,833.

Most deaths after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico are blamed on interruptions in medical care due to power outages and blocked or washed out roads, said the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Approximately one-third of post-hurricane deaths were reported by household members as being caused by delayed or prevented access to medical care,” said the report.

Methodology 

Researchers went door-to-door at 3,299 homes randomly selected from across the US territory, home to some 3.3 million people.

Survey-takers used criteria from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if a person’s death could be blamed on the hurricane.

By definition, this could be either forces related to the event such as flying debris, or unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the three months afterward, including loss of necessary medical services.

The surveys were taken from January to February 2018, a time when researchers noted, “many survey respondents were still without water and electricity.”

To avoid bias, people were not paid for their response, and were informed that their answers would not gain them any additional government aid.

If a family member was reported missing but not known to be deceased, researchers counted them as alive.

The data showed a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, compared to the same period a year earlier, corresponding to a total of 4,645 deaths.

Even this is believed to be a “substantial underestimate” of the actual death count, said the report, noting it could be above 5,700. It said this was because no one could answer the survey questions for those people who had been living on their own and died during the storm.

“Our estimates are roughly consistent with press reports that evaluated deaths in the first month after the hurricane,” it added.

“On average, households went 84 days without electricity, 64 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage,” the report added.

Researchers said they were unable to compare their estimates with the latest government count, because their request for access to those figures was denied.

The government of Puerto Rico stopped publicly sharing its data on hurricane deaths in December 2017.

“These numbers will serve as an important independent comparison to official statistics from death registry data, which are currently being re-evaluated, and underscore the inattention of the US government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico,” concluded the report.

AFP

Power Station Explosion Plunges Puerto Rico Into Darkness

Ambulances are seen at the entrance of an electric substation after an explosion and fire was reported and caused a blackout in parts of San Juan, on February 11, 2018. PHOTO: Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP

 

Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island’s electricity network.

The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.

“We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible,” the AEE said.

San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital’s airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.

The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE’s 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.

AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was “serious,” and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.

AFP

Trump To Request $29bn For Storm-Hit Puerto Rico – White House

Trump To Request $29bn For Storm-Hit Puerto Rico – White House
File photo: US President Donald Trump speaks to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, DC, September 29, 2017. SAUL LOEB / AFP

US President Donald Trump will ask Congress for a bumper $29 billion package of emergency relief for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, officials told AFP Wednesday.

Trump will request a package that includes $12.77 in disaster relief and a $16 billion bailout to keep a critical flood insurance program running.

There was no immediate indication when the request would come, but top Republicans have suggested a package will be approved by the middle of this month.

The news comes after Trump visited the US island on Tuesday.

He shook hands with storm survivors, lobbed rolls of paper towels into a crowd and tried to slap down critics who judged his administration’s response to the disaster too slow.

But he also raised eyebrows by suggesting residents should be “proud” that Maria did not kill as many people as “a real catastrophe like Katrina” — which ravaged New Orleans in 2005.

Trump also sent financial markets fluttering when he suggested Puerto Rico’s $70 billion-plus debt would have to be wiped out.

Markets reacted poorly to the comments — which were quickly walked back by White House officials.

Investors holding Puerto Rico’s debt have been in a long tussle to minimize their losses.

After Trump’s remarks, bonds due to mature in 2035 traded at 32.25 cents on the dollar, down from 44 cents on Tuesday.

Even before the monster storm, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, the territory had declared a form of bankruptcy and said its economy was in a “death spiral.”

After falling into recession a decade ago, Puerto Rico debt-financed its budget. US lawmakers last year put the island’s finances under federal administration, suspending lawsuits from creditors, but legal battles have continued.

The package is significantly larger than the $15 billion hurricane relief package for Texas after Hurricane Harvey, but is likely to be only a fraction of what the island needs.

The debt relief portion is expected to come with no conditions attached, but may include recommendations to reform a flood insurance program that was due to run out of cash by the end of the month.

The disaster relief portion of the funding is expected to keep Puerto Rico going until the end of the year.

Nearly two weeks after Maria thrashed through the US territory, seven percent of the island has electricity, more than 9,000 people are living in shelters, and just 40 percent of telecommunications are back up.

AFP

Trump Defends Response To Puerto Rico Hurricane Disaster

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 19: This file photo shows President Donald Trump speaking to world leaders at the 72nd United Nations (UN) General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York on September 19, 2017 in New York City.
SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

US President Donald Trump defended the government relief response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday and said he would visit the island next week.

Trump also said that he would travel to the US Virgin Islands, another US territory in the Caribbean that was slammed by a pair of powerful storms.

“Both have been devastated, and I mean absolutely devastated,” the president told reporters at a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“Puerto Rico got hit by two hurricanes,” he said. “And they were among biggest we’ve ever seen.”

Puerto Rico was facing a “long and very, very difficult restoration process,” Trump said, and relief efforts were complicated by the fact that it is an island.

“It is on an island in the middle of the ocean,” Trump said. “You can’t just drive your truck there.”

Rejecting accusations Puerto Rico has not received the same level of assistance as storm-hit US states Florida and Texas, Trump said a “massive relief effort is underway.”

He said he had ordered all relevant agencies and the military to do “everything in their power” to help residents of Puerto Rico.

“We are unloading on an hourly basis massive loads of water and food and supplies for Puerto Rico,” Trump said, adding that he would visit there on Tuesday.

– ‘Life or death’ –

Puerto Rico, a US territory in the Caribbean, was hit by successive hurricanes — Irma and Maria — which have left most of the Spanish-speaking island of 3.4 million without running water, electricity and communications.

Food, water and fuel are scarce and Puerto Rican officials and residents have issued increasingly desperate appeals for help.

“It’s life or death,” Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, said Tuesday.

“People are really dying,” the mayor of the city of nearly 400,000 people told CBS News. “There are people that have had no food and no water for 14 days.”

Trump has come under fire for tweeting repeatedly over the weekend about American football players kneeling during the national anthem while failing to mention Puerto Rico.

Singer Marc Anthony, who was born in New York of Puerto Rican parents, told Trump in a tweet with an expletive thrown in to stop talking about the National Football League and “do something about our people in need in #PuertoRico.”

“We are American citizens too,” Anthony said.

Appealing for “swift action” from the Trump administration and US Congress, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello also felt the need to issue a reminder — twice — that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

“What Puerto Rico is experiencing after Hurricane Maria is an unprecedented disaster,” Rossello said in a statement. “The devastation is vast.

“We are collaborating with the federal government in emergency response and have received a tremendous outpour of solidarity from people all over the nation,” he said.

“But make no mistake — this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens,” he said. “We will need the full support of the US government.

“People cannot forget that we are US citizens — and proud of it.”

– ‘A disgrace’ –

While US citizens, residents of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico are not allowed to vote in US presidential elections and the island has only a non-voting representative in the US Congress.

Trump on Tuesday dismissed charges he neglected Puerto Rico while spending too much time on the anthem controversy.

“I wasn’t preoccupied with the NFL,” he said. “Not at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work.”

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, was among those urging more federal government help for stricken Puerto Ricans.

“The crisis for these Americans needs more attention — and more urgency from the executive branch,” Sasse said in a tweet.

Representative Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, condemned the Trump administration’s response to the crisis as “wholly inadequate.”

“A territory of 3.5 million American citizens is almost completely without power, water, food and telephone service, and we have a handful of helicopters involved in (the Pentagon’s) response,” he said.

“It’s a disgrace,” Smith added.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has shrugged off the criticism and said there are more than 10,000 federal staff on the ground in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands providing help.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, pledged more congressional assistance.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Ryan said Tuesday. “This is our country and these are our fellow citizens.

“They need our help and they are going to get our help,” he said. “They’re going to get the kind of support and aid that Texas and Florida have enjoyed.”

AFP

13 Dead, Hundreds Rescued After Hurricane Maria Pummels Puerto Rico

Inhabitants stand in flood water in front of a house flooded in Juana Matos, Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

Puerto Rico was on Friday battling dangerous flooding after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as the death toll there jumped to 13 and authorities rescued nearly 700 people from high waters.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria the most devastating storm in a century after it destroyed the US territory’s electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.

“Part of the island is lacking communications so what we have are some preliminary assessments about 13 deaths at this juncture,” he told CNN early Friday.

“We’re 24 hours post-hurricane warning and right now our efforts are to make sure we have everybody safe, that we can rescue people. Our efforts have already produced almost 700 rescues so we’re clearly focused on that.”

The National Hurricane Center said some areas in Puerto Rico could see 40 inches (more than a meter) of rain from Maria, and Rossello warned of dangerous mudslides brought on by the deluge.

“We have a lot of flooding, we have reports of complete devastation of vulnerable housing. Of course it’s still raining over here.”

Maria was blamed for at least 33 deaths, including 15 in Dominica, three in Haiti and two in Guadeloupe.

“Puerto Rico is absolutely obliterated,” US President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday after declaring the territory of 3.4 million people a disaster area, a move that will free up emergency relief funding.

“Puerto Rico is in a very, very, very tough shape,” he said.

– ‘Worst night of our lives’ –
The torrential rain had turned some roads into muddy brown rivers, impassable to all but the largest of vehicles.

Toppled trees, street signs and power cables were strewn across roads that were also littered with debris.

“We all lived through the worst night of our lives, but Puerto Ricans have great inner strength,” said Iris Rivera, 53, in San Juan.

“Everyone is helping by cleaning up, directing traffic and supporting their neighbors.”

As of early Friday, Maria was a Category Three hurricane with winds of 125 miles per hour (205 kilometers per hour), churning in the sea some 35 miles east of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos.

Heavy rains and high winds began hitting the archipelago, a British territory, on Thursday afternoon.

The government opened new shelters after several buildings which had been used during Hurricane Irma earlier this month were damaged and authorities feared they might not hold up under another fierce storm.

In the Dominican Republic, the heavy rains triggered flooding as rivers overflowed their banks.

High winds downed trees and electrical pylons, and 140,000 people were left without power, the government said. Some 17,000 have been evacuated from their homes.

– Months to restore power? –

Ricardo Ramos, who heads Puerto Rico’s electricity board, said it could take months before power is fully restored on the island.

“The system… has been totally destroyed,” he said of the electricity grid.

While the island had suffered major blackouts in previous hurricanes, Ramos said the impact would be felt much more keenly this time.

“I guess it’s a good time for dads to buy a glove and ball and change the way you entertain your children and the way you are going to go to school and the way you are going to cook,” Ramos told CNN.

Following reports of looting, Rossello imposed an overnight curfew, from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, which will stay in place until Saturday.

Maria has already torn through several Caribbean islands, claiming the highest toll on Dominica, which has a population of around 72,000 and has been largely cut off from the outside world.

“So far, we would have buried in excess of 15 people,” Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said.

“If there (are) no other fatalities, it is a miracle,” he said.

We have no water, no electricity, very limited communications.”

– ‘Very, very vulnerable’ –

AFP aerial footage showed debris from damaged buildings scattered across the island and many structures with their roofs ripped off. Trees were snapped in half or ripped out of the ground.

Residents on Thursday were busy shoveling mud from their homes and businesses, while laundry was hung out to dry on the frames of half-destroyed homes and along downed utility cables.

Skerrit appealed for desperately needed supplies and helicopters to ferry them to cut-off communities.

“These hurricanes are becoming stronger than ever and more powerful than ever… And we really need, all of us, to understand that these issues are of greater concern to small islands like ours.

“We are very very vulnerable,” said Skerrit, who himself had to be rescued during the hurricane which blew off the roof off his home.

AFP

Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico

Winds lash the coastal city of Fajardo as Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico, AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO

Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean.

The US National Hurricane Center warned of “large and destructive waves” as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello has told residents to brace for “the worst storm of the last century”, opening 500 shelters that can accommodate 67,000 people.

“The wind sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs!” photographer and storm chaser Mike Theiss posted on Twitter as the hurricane hit.

“We are getting absolutely hammered right now.”

Puerto Ricans had scrambled to board up windows and buy last minute supplies as the storm approached the densely populated island of 3.5 million.

“Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane,” tweeted US President Donald Trump.

“Be careful, our hearts are with you — will be there to help!”

Maria made landfall as a Category Four storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, packing winds of 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour.

The US and British Virgin Islands — still struggling to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Irma — are also on alert, along with the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Dominican Republic.

Maria has already torn through several Caribbean islands, leaving two people dead in the French territory of Guadeloupe and causing major damage on the independent island of Dominica.

AFP