Hurricane Maria leaves Puerto Rico in total blackout as storm batters island

Caribbean storm heading to Dominican Republic after punishing 155mph winds and life-threatening floods knocked out the US territory’s electricity

If you’ve been affected by the storm you can share your story here

Puerto Rico is without electricity, officials have said, after Hurricane Maria’s strong winds and flooding knocked out the US territory’s power service.

Island residents endured a day of punishing winds and life-threatening flooding on Wednesday from the category 4 storm, which was the third hurricane to pummel the Caribbean in as many weeks.

Maria, now a category 3 storm with winds of 115 mph, is currently lashing the Dominican Republic as is it passes to its north and is expected to move near the Turks and Caicos later on Thursday. It previously hit the islands of Dominica, Guadeloupe and the US territory of St Croix, where Donald Trump has declared a major disaster.

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” warned Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico’s emergency management director. “The information we have received is not encouraging.”

The storm made landfall early on Wednesday morning with winds of 155mph (250kph). Residents said roofs were torn off buildings and doors flew off their hinges.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, ordered a curfew every night until Saturday, from 6pm until 6am, saying the move was essential to maintain order. “Remain in safe places,” Rosello said. Emergency personnel, health workers and reporters are exempt.

Widespread flooding affected the capital, San Juan, and a flash-flood warning was declared in central Puerto Rico, where river levels are at a record high. People took cover in stairwells, bathrooms and closets as trees and communication towers were knocked down in the storm.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told the Associated Press that 80% of the 454 homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. “Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” he said.

Mike Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC, said Maria would remain “a major, very dangerous hurricane” for the next couple of days and that rainfall would be a problem even after the center of the hurricane moved away from the island. Federal officials were reporting that all energy customers in Puerto Rico had been left without power late on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) told the Guardian.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), Carlos Mercader, said there were 13,000 evacuees in Puerto Rico’s shelters. This includes people who evacuated from other islands during Hurricane Irma.

In a meeting broadcast online on Wednesday morning, Mercader warned power was expected to shut down. Because of this, he said, his administration was prioritizing getting generators to help power hospitals, schools, the water system and flood pumps. “In order to help with the floodings, we need electricity,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rossello warned the country would lose “a lot of infrastructure”. Homes built after 2011 – when the island, a US territory, introduced newer construction codes – could survive the winds but those in flood-prone areas “have no chance”, he said.

Maria is the first category 4 hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1932.

As Puerto Rico residents braced for the storm on Tuesday, Trump sent a message of support on Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane,” he said. “Be careful, our hearts are with you – will be there to help!”

Residents of the British Virgin Islands told the Guardian that it was hard to tell how badly the islands had been hit because the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma was so fresh. Communication with the territory remained patchy, and a strict curfew was being enforced.

The hurricane was still category 5 early Wednesday morning when it pummeled St Croix, the largest and southernmost of the US Virgin Islands, and Guadeloupe, where at least one person died and about 40% of homes were without power in the aftermath of the storm.

There were “multiple casualties” on Dominica, the first island struck by Maria, according to the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), and at least 90% of buildings were damaged. The storm took out all of the island’s communication systems, triggered landslides and blocked roads, OECS said.

Communications with the island were severely disrupted and inhabitants were only able to make contact with the outside world using shortwave radios.

At least seven people died there, according to Hartley Henry, a chief aid to the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit. Henry gave an update on the impact of the hurricane after speaking to Skerrit, who he said expected the death toll to increase as they received more information from rural communities.

Henry said: “The country is in a daze – no electricity, no running water – as a result of uprooted pipes in most communities and definitely to landline or cellphone services on island, and that will be for quite a while.”

  • If you want to check on a Puerto Rico resident, you can reach Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration at 1-202-778-0710.


Amanda Holpuch in New York

The GuardianTramp

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