The first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1932 is leaving its mark on the tropical Caribbean island, packing extreme winds and knocking out power to all 3.4 million residents.
Hurricane Maria (lower) and Hurricane Jose (above). (NASA/NOAA GOES Project)
Maria has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm, with winds topping 185km/h. The eye has moved past Puerto Rico, but not before hitting the island with winds as high as 250km/h.
News reports and social media are providing the first glimmers of the devastation reaped by Maria; images show twisted trees, intense flooding, roofs being stripped away, and large pieces of debris hurtling through the air.
“We are 100 per cent without power,” exclaimed a spokesperson for the Puerto Rico governor’s office earlier today. “Puerto Rico, in terms of the infrastructure, will not be the same… This is something of historic proportions.” The claim of an island-wide blackout was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management. Abner Gómez, who heads the agency, said the hurricane had damaged “everything in its path,” according to the BBC.
Thousands of people are currently huddled in more than 500 shelters located around the island. One of the biggest, the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, is currently sheltering around 600 people, and it was near the centre of the storm when it passed through. The storm has already left seven people dead on the island of Dominica, but there are no reports of deaths or injuries so far in Puerto Rico.
Given that the storm isn’t even over, it’s too early to know how quickly electricity will be restored. Puerto Rico is currently grappling with a $US73 billion ($91 billion) debt crisis that has weakened its public health and infrastructure systems, creating an exodus of professionals to the United States. Earlier today, Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, asked President Trump to declare the US territory a disaster area, which if granted, would provide the island with more federal assistance for its recovery.
From here, Maria is expected to lash the northern coasts of Haiti and the Domincan Republic, and then make an evasive manoeuvre northwards, possibly skirting the eastern Bahamas. It’s still too early to tell if the US mainland will be affected, or where.