SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) • Hurricane Maria scoured parts of the Dominican Republic with heavy rain and high winds as it passed off the east coast yesterday, after making a direct hit on Puerto Rico that caused severe flooding and cut power supply to almost all of the island.
Maria has killed at least 10 people after raging through the Caribbean region - the second major hurricane to do so this month.
It ripped roofs off almost all structures on the island nation of Dominica, where seven people were confirmed dead. The number is expected to climb when searches resume at daybreak.
Maria was ranked a Category 4 storm, near the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of up to 250kmh, when it landed in Puerto Rico on Wednesday. It was the strongest storm to hit the United States territory in nearly 90 years.
The storm tore roofs from buildings, snapped power lines and turned roadways into torrents laden with debris as it cut a diagonal swathe across the island.
The entire island of 3.4 million people was under a flash flood warning early yesterday as the storm was forecast to dump 50cm to 76cm of rain on much of Puerto Rico today, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC).
The island's governor, Mr Ricardo Rossello, said that the only fatality immediately reported was a man who had been struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds. Mr Rossello noted that it could take months before electricity across the island was completely restored. Earlier, he had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the island.
Puerto Rico's recovery could be complicated by its financial woes as it faces the largest municipal debt crisis in US history. Both its government and the public utility have filed for bankruptcy protection amid disputes with creditors.
The streets of Puerto Rico's historic Old Town in the capital of San Juan were strewn with broken balconies, air-conditioning units, shattered lamp posts, fallen power lines and dead birds. Few trees escaped unscathed.
The island's recovery could be complicated by its financial woes as it faces the largest municipal debt crisis in US history. Both its government and the public utility have filed for bankruptcy protection amid disputes with creditors.
Maria was expected to pick up strength as it churned towards the Turks and Caicos Islands and the south-eastern Bahamas yesterday. It was expected to move north in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend. There was no indication as to whether it would hit the continental US.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in the US Virgin Islands and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts, the White House said late on Wednesday.