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Hurricane Maria pummels Puerto Rico

Updated September 21, 2017

SAN JUAN: Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island’s worst storm in living memory.

After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 1240 kilometres per hour.

Many of the most vulnerable of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents took cover in the 500 shelters set up around the island, with officials warning of life-threatening floods. Although engineers had managed to restore power to most of the island after the recent Hurricane Irma, Rossello said around 60 per cent of Puerto Rico had again been blacked out.

Virgin Islands misery

The US and British Virgin Islands — still struggling to recover from the devastation of 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.

In the US Virgin Islands, locals reported horizontal rain and trees swirling in the wind. In Guadeloupe, one person was killed by a falling tree as Maria hit, while another died on the seafront. At least two more are missing after their boat sank off the French territory, while some 40 per cent of households in the archipelago of 400,000 were without power.

Dominica devastation

Communications to Dominica have been largely cut, and its airports and ports have been closed. But an advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who spoke to the premier by satellite phone, painted a picture of devastation on an island that is home to around 73,000 people. “Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs, which means that a very urgent need now is tarpaulins and other roofing materials,” Hartley Henry said in a statement.

Britain, France and the Netherlands had boosted resources in their Caribbean territories ahead of Maria, after heavy criticism of poor preparations for Irma.

All three European countries have increased their troop deployments to the region after complaints of looting and lawlessness after Irma.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2017