Hurricane Maria is currently churning off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, leaving behind historic levels of destruction in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and several Caribbean nations. Recovery and cleanup efforts have already begun, but as grim new photographs show, these tropical islands have their work cut out for them.
Electricity poles and lines lay toppled on the road after Hurricane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico. (Image: AP)
The eye of Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico yesterday, lashing the US territory with Category 4 winds of 200km/h and knocking out power across the entire island.
"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press. He isn't exaggerating. Puerto Rico is a battered vestige of what it was just a few hours ago, with vegetation stripped from trees, hundreds of houses smashed to tinder sticks, and streets filled with the flotsam and jetsam left behind by catastrophic floods.
Earlier, the storm blasted through the US Virgin Islands, passing west of St Croix and delivering winds as high as 145km/h.
People walk next to a petrol station flooded and damaged by the impact of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. (Image: AP)
A Puerto Rican car dealership lies in tatters. (Image: AP)
Downed power lines are an all-too common scene. (Image: AP)
Puerto remains under a flash flood warning on Thursday as the tail-end of the storm threatens to deliver another 10 to 20cm of rain on top of the 89cm already delivered. At least one person is dead, and a woman and two children were rescued from a boat that went missing off Puerto Rico, according to the US Coast Guard. Maria is being blamed for at least 18 deaths so far: 15 in Dominica, two in Guadeloupe, and one in Puerto Rico.
— David Hulme (@DrDavidHulme) September 20, 2017
— USFWS Director (@USFWSDirector) September 21, 2017
— Jo (@cur0ch) September 21, 2017
— Cristina Diaz C. (@crimargarita) September 20, 2017
— Hurricane Info (@HurricaneData) September 20, 2017
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The hurricane couldn't have come at a worse time for the US territory, which is in the midst of a debilitating debt crisis. With an infrastructure in an already depleted state, there's no way of knowing how long it will take Puerto Rico to bounce back from Maria, or where it will get the resources to do it.
"Puerto Rico is in very, very tough shape. Their electrical grid is destroyed. It wasn't in good shape to start off with, but their electrical grid is totally destroyed," said President Donald Trump today before a UN meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Trump said he'll work with the island's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and said he'll visit the "absolutely obliterated" island at some point in the future, though no date was specified.
Trees stand barren and debris lays on the roadside on the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. (Image: AP)
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In the US Virgin Islands, home to about 110,000 people, the situation was just as desperate. The White House, as it did for Puerto Rico, has declared the islands a disaster area to make room for federal funding. The storm knocked out electricity and most mobile phone services across the US Virgin Islands. Most radio stations are down and many roads remain impassable, according to Reuters. Estimates suggest about 70 per cent of buildings were damaged in St Croix, a city with a population of 55,000.
The National Hurricane Center reports that Maria is currently 215km southeast of Grand Turk Island. It may strengthen in the coming days, but it's unlikely to hit the US mainland. Tropical storm winds could start hitting the central Bahamas beginning late Friday local time.
And there are still seven weeks left in this year's Atlantic hurricane season.