Puerto Rico’s mayors describe widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria – SFGate

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – In the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, the floodwaters reached more than 10 feet. Stranded residents screamed “save me, save me,” using the lights in their cellphones to help rescue teams find them in the darkness, the town’s mayor said.

In Loiza, a north coastal town that already had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma, 90 percent of homes – 3,000 – were destroyed by Hurricane Maria just days later. In communities across the island, bridges collapsed and highways were severely damaged, isolating many residents. In Rio Grande, officials had yet to access a number of families stuck in their homes, three days after the powerful storm made landfall.

When speaking about his town’s destruction, Ramon Hernandez Torres, mayor of the southern city of Juana Díaz, took a long pause, his voice catching and his eyes filling with tears.

“It’s a total disaster,” he said.


Photo: Carlos Giusti, AP

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A completely ruined house is seen in El Negro community a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017.

A completely ruined house is seen in El Negro community a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017.


Photo: Carlos Giusti, AP

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Trees stand stripped of their foliage by the winds of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. less
Trees stand stripped of their foliage by the winds of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican … more


Photo: Carlos Giusti, AP

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Residents evacuate after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti) ORG XMIT: CGPR110 less
Residents evacuate after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after … more


Photo: Carlos Giusti

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An aerial view of the La Plata River in Toa Alta — Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. Must credit: Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post less
An aerial view of the La Plata River in Toa Alta — Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. Must credit: Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo … more


Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo, For The Washington Post

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: San Juan is seen the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: San Juan is seen the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damaged homes in the La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damaged homes in the La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows wrecked cars in the parking facing the airport in Saint Jean on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as Hurricane Irma has pounded the Caribbean: 10 in the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, six in British overseas territories, four in the US Virgin Islands, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dutch part of Saint Martin and one in Barbuda. Ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin and Saint Barts escaped a further battering by Jose, which had “markedly less” of an impact on the two Caribbean islands than anticipated, France’s meteorological agency said on September 10. / AFP PHOTO / Valentine AUTRUFFE (Photo credit should read VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows wrecked cars in the parking facing the airport in Saint Jean on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25

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Photo: VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damage is seen at Plaza de Colon in Old San Juan the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damage is seen at Plaza de Colon in Old San Juan the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Residents begin to clean up the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on September 21, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Residents begin to clean up the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on September 21, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: The La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: The La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damaged homes in the La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: Damaged homes in the La Perla neighborhood the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan many are left without running water or cell phone service, and the Governor said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century.” (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 21: A damaged gas station the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 21, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The majority of the island has lost power, in San Juan

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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People are seen on the roof of a house(L-down) along with a destroyed roof of a school in Rio Piedras area, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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People are seen on the roof of a house(L-down) along with a destroyed roof of a school in Rio Piedras area, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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A tree blocks a street in Guaynabo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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A tree blocks a street in Guaynabo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – Picture of trees knocked down by strongs winds of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, in the eastermost tip of the Dominican Republic as the hurricane passes just north of the La Espanola island the country shares with Haiti, on September 21, 2017. After cutting a devastating path across Puerto Rico, the now Category Three storm, packing 115 mile (185 kilometre) per hour winds, is passing north of the Dominican Republic as it moves toward the Turks and Caicos Islands, according to the US National Hurricane Centre. / AFP PHOTO / Erika SANTELICES (Photo credit should read ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – Picture of trees knocked down by strongs winds of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, in the eastermost tip of the Dominican Republic as the hurricane passes just north of the La Espanola island the

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Photo: ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – A destroyed shack is seen in the Rio Piedras area, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – A destroyed shack is seen in the Rio Piedras area, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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Flooded streets are seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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Flooded streets are seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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Flooded streets are seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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Flooded streets are seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017 after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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A tree blocks a street in Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called “the most devastating storm in a century,” had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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A tree blocks a street in Santurce, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding on Thursday after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera

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Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Fishing boats with severe damage at Club Nautico in the San Juan Bay. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Fishing boats with severe damage at Club Nautico in the San Juan Bay. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national

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Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A boy plays in flood waters after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A boy plays in flood waters after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Trees block the streets after Hurricane Maria at Escambron Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)


Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Two people walk in front of a damaged food truck in Ashford Avenue after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Two people walk in front of a damaged food truck in Ashford Avenue after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Plaza Colon is covered in fallen trees after Hurricane Maria at Old San Juan in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: Plaza Colon is covered in fallen trees after Hurricane Maria at Old San Juan in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A palm tree is balanced on fallen power lines after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A palm tree is balanced on fallen power lines after Hurricane Maria at Condado in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: A tree is uprooted in the Miramar neighborhood after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: A tree is uprooted in the Miramar neighborhood after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: Fallen trees surround a car in the Miramar neighborhood after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: Fallen trees surround a car in the Miramar neighborhood after Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20, 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thousands of people have sought

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A man loads truck with debris after Hurricane Maria at Muñoz Rivera Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A man loads truck with debris after Hurricane Maria at Muñoz Rivera Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A thick tree damaged a concrete fence after Hurricane Maria at Ponce de Leon Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO SEPTEMBER 20: A thick tree damaged a concrete fence after Hurricane Maria at Ponce de Leon Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. (Photo by Pablo Pantoja/Anadolu

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Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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Men repair a roof of a damaged house after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Grand Case, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Men repair a roof of a damaged house after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Grand Case, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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Destroyed trees and houses are seen after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Destroyed trees and houses are seen after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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Destroyed glass panes are seen after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Destroyed glass panes are seen after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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Destroyed cars lie between trees and trash after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Grand Case, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Destroyed cars lie between trees and trash after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Grand Case, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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Isidro clears his yard of debris left by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on, 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 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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Isidro clears his yard of debris left by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on, cutting power on most of the US territory as

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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Downed power line poles are seen as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of “large and destructive waves” as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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Downed power line poles are seen as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people

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Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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A damaged sail boat washed ashore is seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Fajardo, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of “large and destructive waves” as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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A damaged sail boat washed ashore is seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Fajardo, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already

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Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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Members of the military help remove damaged boats after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Members of the military help remove damaged boats after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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Members of the military help clean up debris after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Members of the military help clean up debris after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – A woman pushes her kids as members of the military help remove damaged boats after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine people in the Caribbean, Maria slammed into Puerto Rico’s southeast coast at daybreak before churning across the US territory which is home to 3.4 million. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – A woman pushes her kids as members of the military help remove damaged boats after the passage of hurricane Irma and Maria in Orient Bay, St. Martin, on September 20, 2017. After killing at least nine

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – Librada is seen at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum refuge in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2017, prior the arrival of Hurricane Maria. She left voluntarily of her house to take refuge. Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after battering the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, with the US National Hurricane Center warning of a “potentially catastrophic” impact. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – Librada is seen at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum refuge in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2017, prior the arrival of Hurricane Maria. She left voluntarily of her house to take refuge. Maria

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – Trees are toppled in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of “large and destructive waves” as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – Trees are toppled in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on

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Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO–SEPT. 20, 2017–A view from the Sheraton Old San Juan, in Puerto Rico, where people are waiting out hurricane Maria on the second floor, some with their pets. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO–SEPT. 20, 2017–A view from the Sheraton Old San Juan, in Puerto Rico, where people are waiting out hurricane Maria on the second floor, some with their pets. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los

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Photo: Carolyn Cole/LA Times Via Getty Images

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: The dining room of the Ciqala hotel suffered damage as Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 in San Juan. Thousands of people have sought refuge in shelters, and electricity and phone lines have been severely effected. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 20: The dining room of the Ciqala hotel suffered damage as Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 in San Juan. Thousands of people have sought refuge

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Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

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Andrea Rivera and her husband Abigail Acevedo rest at a hurricane shelter as Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 19, 2017. Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after battering the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, with the US National Hurricane Center warning of a “potentially catastrophic” impact. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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Andrea Rivera and her husband Abigail Acevedo rest at a hurricane shelter as Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico in Fajardo on September 19, 2017. Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

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Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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People take refuge in an hurricane shelter on September 19, 2017, in La Savane, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma and as the island prepares to step up its alert level ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a “potentially catastrophic” Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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People take refuge in an hurricane shelter on September 19, 2017, in La Savane, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma and as the island prepares to step up its alert

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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The wreckage of a pergola is pictured in the village of Goyave on September 19, 2017 in the French territory of Guadeloupe after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on September 19, with the US National Hurricane Center warning of a “potentially catastrophic” impact as it battered the eastern Caribbean. Arriving just as islanders in the region are struggling to recover from devastating Hurricane Irma which struck earlier this month, Maria claimed its first victim in the French territory of Guadeloupe, where two other people were missing. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrick Isham CALVADOS (Photo credit should read CEDRICK ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images)

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The wreckage of a pergola is pictured in the village of Goyave on September 19, 2017 in the French territory of Guadeloupe after the passage of Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands

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Photo: CEDRICK ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – A picture shows a car with a rotating beacon as its drives among destruction on September 19, 2017, in Quartier d’Orleans, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma and as the island prepares to step up its alert level ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a “potentially catastrophic” Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – A picture shows a car with a rotating beacon as its drives among destruction on September 19, 2017, in Quartier d’Orleans, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Martin, after it was hit by

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows damage in Public, near Gustavia, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as Hurricane Irma has pounded the Caribbean: 10 in the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, six in British overseas territories, four in the US Virgin Islands, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dutch part of Saint Martin and one in Barbuda. Ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin and Saint Barts escaped a further battering by Jose, which had “markedly less” of an impact on the two Caribbean islands than anticipated, France’s meteorological agency said on September 10. / AFP PHOTO / Valentine AUTRUFFE (Photo credit should read VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows damage in Public, near Gustavia, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as Hurricane

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Photo: VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images

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TOPSHOT – A woman pulls a travel case on a rock scattered road in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on September 7, 2017. One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare Category 5 hurricane churned westward off the northern coast of Puerto Rico early Thursday on a potential collision course with south Florida, where at-risk areas were evacuated. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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TOPSHOT – A woman pulls a travel case on a rock scattered road in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on September 7, 2017. One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare

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Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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Palm trees lie in the water in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on September 7, 2017. One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare Category 5 hurricane churned westward off the northern coast of Puerto Rico early Thursday on a potential collision course with south Florida, where at-risk areas were evacuated. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images)

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Palm trees lie in the water in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on September 7, 2017. One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, the rare Category 5 hurricane churned westward

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Photo: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

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Passengers wait to board their plane at the departures terminal at the Pole Caraibes international airport in Pointe-a-Pitre, which re-opened on September 6, 2017, after hurricane Irma hit the island. Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, cut a deadly swath through a string of small Caribbean islands on Wednesday and was on a collision course with Puerto Rico and potentially south Florida. / AFP PHOTO / Helene Valenzuela (Photo credit should read HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Passengers wait to board their plane at the departures terminal at the Pole Caraibes international airport in Pointe-a-Pitre, which re-opened on September 6, 2017, after hurricane Irma hit the island. Hurricane

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Photo: HELENE VALENZUELA/AFP/Getty Images

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows destruction at the Eden Rock hotel in Baie de Saint Jean on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as Hurricane Irma has pounded the Caribbean: 10 in the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, six in British overseas territories, four in the US Virgin Islands, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dutch part of Saint Martin and one in Barbuda. Ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin and Saint Barts escaped a further battering by Jose, which had “markedly less” of an impact on the two Caribbean islands than anticipated, France’s meteorological agency said on September 10. / AFP PHOTO / Valentine AUTRUFFE (Photo credit should read VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows destruction at the Eden Rock hotel in Baie de Saint Jean on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people

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Photo: VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows a wrecked car in Public, near Gustavia, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as Hurricane Irma has pounded the Caribbean: 10 in the French islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, six in British overseas territories, four in the US Virgin Islands, two in Puerto Rico and two in the Dutch part of Saint Martin and one in Barbuda. Ravaged by Hurricane Irma, Saint Martin and Saint Barts escaped a further battering by Jose, which had “markedly less” of an impact on the two Caribbean islands than anticipated, France’s meteorological agency said on September 10. / AFP PHOTO / Valentine AUTRUFFE (Photo credit should read VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

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A picture taken on September 6, 2017, shows a wrecked car in Public, near Gustavia, on the French Caribbean island of Saint-Barthelemy, after it was hit by Hurricane Irma. At least 25 people have died as

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Photo: VALENTINE AUTRUFFE/AFP/Getty Images

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Puerto Rico’s mayors describe widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria

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Hurricane Maria pounded the entire island of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, but the scope of the damage had been speculative and unclear since, in large part because towns across the U.S. territory have been completely off the grid. Though images from the air showed incredible destruction, mayors were unable to reach central government for leadership and help because communication was impossible. No telephones, cellphones, or Internet. No power. No passage through roads that had been washed away or blocked with trees and power lines.

But on Saturday, for the first time in days, mayors and representatives from more than 50 municipalities across Puerto Rico met with government officials at the emergency operations command center here in the island’s capital city. Many of the mayors learned about the meeting through media reports over satellite radio the night before. One mayor said his staff was informed after a man ran to his offices with a note telling him to make his way to San Juan.

Approximately 20 other mayors across the island still have not been able to make contact with government officials, leaving major gaps in the broader understanding of the damage Maria left behind.

The mayors greeted each other with hugs and tears, and they pleaded with their governor for some of the things their communities need most: drinking water, prescription drugs, gasoline, oxygen tanks, and satellite phones. The entire population remains without electricity. Families everywhere are unable to buy food or medical treatment. Roads remain waterlogged, and looting has begun to take place at night.

“There is horror in the streets,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said in a raw, emotional interview with The Washington Post. “People are actually becoming prisoners in their own homes.”

“Whenever I walk through San Juan,” Yulín said, she sees the “sheer pain in people’s eyes. . . . They’re kind of glazed, not because of what has happened but because of the difficulty of what will come,” she said. “I know we’re not going to get to everybody in time. . . . Two days ago I said I was concerned about that. Now I know we won’t get to everybody in time.”

Oscar Santiago, mayor of the northern coastal city of Vega Alta, said many of his community’s families refused to evacuate their flooded homes. One little girl was standing barefoot with her family on a roof, which was littered with nails, he said. When he asked her to put on some sandals, she told him: “The hurricane took them.”

Marcos Cruz Molina, mayor of Vega Baja, said even his own wooden home was destroyed, and he has since sought shelter with his parents. Jose Rodriguez, mayor of Hatillo, in the northwest, said “hundreds and hundreds” of homes in his town were obliterated. “It’s catastrophic,” he said.

The meeting in San Juan came a day after the governor urged residents downstream from Lake Guajataca – a population of nearly 70,000 – to evacuate amid fears that a dam holding the lake back might fail because of damage from Hurricane Maria’s floodwaters. Officials said the dam’s structural damage was caused by a “fissure,” a crack that had grown to a significant “rupture” by Saturday. The dam’s failure could lead to massive amounts of water flowing through coastal communities along a river’s path to the ocean, and authorities believed evacuation was the only option.

Local authorities said the actual number of residents remaining in those towns at risk of destruction was most likely much lower because of early overestimates, officials said. Evacuations continued on Saturday.

The official death toll on the island from Hurricane Maria has risen to 10. One died when he was struck in the head by a panel, another died in an accident with an excavating machine, three died in landslides, two in flooding in Toa Baja, and two police officers in Aguada drowned when the Culebrinas River overflowed.

One person in Arecibo died after being swept away by rising water. Officials believe there are probably others they haven’t yet been able to confirm.

At the intersection of Routes 2 and 1o in Arecibo, employees of the Gulf Express gas station and their families – about 20 people in all – were hard at work Saturday. Their boots and sneakers were caked with mud because there is mud everywhere: On their pants and shirts, in their cars and on the walls of their homes. The makeshift cleanup crew was using brooms to sweep out the grayish brown slop that lay two or three inches thick inside.

After Maria blew threw the city, taking down trees and power lines, the flash floods came.

“The water had to be at least six, maybe seven feet high,” said Nelson Rodriguez, an employee at the Gulf Express. “It took everything. All the medicine in the pharmacy, all the food, it’s gone.”

Every home and business in this part of Arecibo was affected by the flooding. Two blocks away from the gas station, Eduardo Carraquillo, 45, helped his father, Ismael Freytes, 69, clean the mud out of their yellow, first-floor apartment. Inside, a film, rising six feet high on the walls, marked where water stagnated for much of a full day.

“The water just pushed through the door, as if it had been left open,” Carraquillo said. “We all evacuated the day after the storm, because we were warned about the flash flood that might come. Everyone left, just to be safe, except for two older men that lived a few houses away. They just didn’t want to leave. When we came back, we found out the flood had killed them right there in that apartment.”

Some Puerto Rico officials believe it could be months before the island recovers and that it will be at least a year before some sense of normalcy returns.

Officials estimate it will take three weeks for hospitals to regain power, and about six months for the rest of the island to have electricity. By Saturday, 25 percent of the population had telecommunications connections.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced efforts to centralize medical care and shelters for the elderly. He also plans to distribute 250 satellite phones among mayors to facilitate communication. He said he urged the mayors to develop a “buddy system” with other local officials.

Yulín, San Juan’s mayor, said she has never seen such devastation, but she also said she has never seen such determination to make it. She described a phrase she keeps hearing from residents: “Yo soy Boricua. I am from Puerto Rico.”

“That has become the very courageous way of saying we are going to overcome anything that comes our way,” she said.

A janitor stopped Yulín with a request on Friday: “Tell the world we’re here,” he said, Yulín recounted. “Tell everyone we’re fighting. Tell everyone that can listen that we are going to make it.”

With her voice faltering, Yulín echoed that cry: “If anyone can hear us . . . help.”

“Those are words that no society should have to endure alone or ever,” Yulín said. “What I would ask is not only for Puerto Rico, but for the entire Caribbean that has been hit so hard by this: Do not forget us and do not let us feel alone.”

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Cassady reported from Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

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Video: San Juan mayor: ‘There is horror in the streets’

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz recounts the many struggles Puerto Rico’s capital city is facing as it tries to regain its footing after Hurricane Maria.

Short URL: http://wapo.st/2fHIm2H

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Video: See Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria from the air

Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage to Puerto Rico. Drone footage captured the scene in San Juan and Canóvanas on Sept. 21.

Short URL: http://wapo.st/2fFSGIt

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