SAN JUAN, P.R. — Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 storm early Wednesday, cutting electricity and phone lines, sending thousands of people into shelters and raising the prospect of deadly floods. The storm was bringing new misery to a region that has seen two other powerful hurricanes, Irma and Jose, in recent weeks.
As of 11 a.m., Maria’s core was moving over Puerto Rico with 140 m.p.h. winds, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to produce “life-threatening flooding,” with 12 to 18 inches of rain falling in Puerto Rico through Friday and an additional five to 10 inches of rain in the Virgin islands.
As the hurricane moved in, residents across Puerto Rico were awakened by the clamor of strengthening wind gusts.
“For Irma, we were very prepared,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on CNN on Wednesday morning. “Unfortunately, of course, now we’re feeling a second storm in two weeks, and this one much more devastating than the first one. Who knows what the damage will be?”
Flooding and mudslides are major concerns, he warned, and the rain that follows the brunt of the storm could be just as dangerous as the winds.
Here’s the latest:
• The storm made landfall at Yabucoa in Puerto Rico’s southeast shortly after 6 a.m., with winds as strong as 155 m.p.h. It had crossed the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, then weakened slightly but remained “extremely dangerous.”
• Gov. Rosselló said that 80 to 90 percent of the island was without power and that he expected the island to lose power entirely.
• He said that 11,000 people were reported to have gone to shelters, but that the real number was most likely higher.
• Hartley Henry, an adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there had been seven confirmed deaths from Hurricane Maria on that island. Two people were also killed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, officials said.
Flooding is a major concern in Puerto Rico
“We know there are severe damages along different rivers and reservoirs, and water has overflowed from riverbanks, causing flooding,” Governor Rosselló said in an interview with El Nuevo Dia, the largest daily newspaper in Puerto Rico.
“This is just the beginning,” he said of the rain. “A lot of rain is yet to fall and that’s going to cause a lot of flooding and more threats to lives.”
The National Weather Service in San Juan reported Wednesday morning that there was a flash flooding emergency along the Río de la Plata basin. The municipalities of Comerío, Naranjito, Dorado, Toa Baja and Toa Alta, all of which are along the river, were expected to be effected until at least 4 p.m. Eastern time.
Five gates of La Plata reservoir in Toa Alta, a town near the island’s capital, were opened on Wednesday morning to reduce increased water levels due to Maria’s heavy rains, the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management said.
Photos and videos posted on social media showed numerous instances of severe flooding on the island.
Puerto Ricans woke up to strong winds
Residents of Puerto Rico braced for a more direct hit than from Irma, which killed three people there and knocked out power to many.
As the storm moved in, Jerika Llano, 27, took refuge with three family members in her concrete home in Bayamón, a town near the island’s capital. She said the wind was “blowing hard and screaming.”
“Almost all the trees have fallen, and I can see aluminum roofs flying,” she said. “The doors and gates vibrate because of the power of the gusts.”
In the town of Cataño in northern Puerto Rico, several houses lost their zinc roofs and the roof of a church was ripped apart, Felix Delgado Montalvo, the town’s mayor, said on a local radio station.
“My message now is not to leave your houses until the situation is over,” he told listeners.
Federal officials say they are prepared to help
President Trump said on Wednesday that he had “never seen” winds like ones generated by Hurricane Maria as it made landfall in Puerto Rico.
“We have a big one going right now — I’ve never seen winds like this — in Puerto Rico,” he said as he entered a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in New York. “You take a look at what’s happening there, and it’s just one after another.”
The king said extended his ‘condolences’ to residents in the path of the three storms that have hit the United States over the last several weeks, adding, ‘To us sitting on the outside, seeing how the Americans came together during a difficult, really an example.’
On CNN, Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that the agency was well positioned to help in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.
Mr. Long confirmed that both areas had fragile power systems. “It’s going to be a very frustrating event to get the power back on,” he said.
‘There was howling in every part of this house,’ said a St. Croix resident
Residents of the Virgin Islands, whose homes were damaged by Irma two weeks ago, had been urged to find new shelters to ride out Maria.
The storm began pounding the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening, and a flash-flood alert was sent to residents’ cellphones at 10:05 p.m., Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp of the United States Virgin Islands said. He had warned that hurricane-strength winds were likely to batter the islands until Wednesday morning.
The core of the storm passed south of the Virgin Islands, with the outer eyewall lashing St. Croix.
“There was howling in every part of this house,” said Ernice Gilbert, a journalist who lives on the east side of the island. “In my area, the winds were ferocious. But the bulk of the winds were expected to hit strongest in the southwest.”
At one point, he said, the rafters of his house began “cracking,” and part of his wall had cracked. The strong winds forced him to barricade his doors with couches, Mr. Gilbert said.
“That was the scariest portion of the ordeal for me,” he said by telephone.
Maria had battered the island nation of Dominica a day earlier. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described the damage as “mind-boggling” and wrote on Facebook that he had to be rescued after winds ripped the roof off his official residence. But little information has emerged since then, with the storm having taken out phone and power lines on Dominica.
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