SAN JUAN: Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico on Wednesday and left the entire island without power, bringing deadly winds and pounding rain that sent thousands scurrying to shelters.
Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million people.
The storm was blamed for 10 deaths in the Caribbean, including a man in northern Puerto Rico’s Bayamon who died after being struck by a board he had used to cover his windows, government spokeswoman Yennifer Alvarez told Agence France-Presse.
Though the storm had moved back out to sea, authorities early Thursday declared a flash flood warning for all of Puerto Rico.
“If possible, move to higher ground NOW!” the National Weather Service station in San Juan said in a tweet, calling the flooding “catastrophic.”
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called Maria “the most devastating storm in a century.”
“We have a lot of flooding, a lot of infrastructure damage, telecommunication system is partially down, energy infrastructure is completely down,” he told CNN.
Rossello added that authorities did not have much information from the island’s southeast, which was “virtually disconnected” after taking a direct hit from Maria when it made landfall.
Tens of thousands of people had hunkered down in shelters in the capital San Juan as the storm approached. Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz broke down in tears as she spoke of the utter devastation she had witnessed.
“Many parts of San Juan are completely flooded,” Yulin Cruz told reporters in one of the shelters, its roof swaying while she spoke.
“Our life as we know it has changed.”
Maria made landfall as a Category Four storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, initially packing winds of a little over 150 mph (240 kph) before easing slightly as it powered towards San Juan.
“The wind sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs!” Mike Theiss wrote on Twitter, sheltering in a safe room in the eye of the storm.
Imy Rigau, who was riding out the storm in her apartment in San Juan, said water cascaded through her ceiling.
“We are taking refuge in the hallway as there is about a foot (30 centimeters) of water in my apartment,” she told Agence France-Presse.