HURRICANE MARIA | Storm hits Puerto Rico after slamming Dominica
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico pummeled the island Wednesday, tearing off roofs and sending doors flying from hinges as officials warned Hurricane Maria would decimate the power company’s crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.
Maria, which has killed at least nine in the Caribbean, made landfall early Wednesday in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph (250 kph) winds, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.
People calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island’s southern region. Meanwhile, widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan, with water running down one apartment’s interior staircase.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned of heavy rains and flooding but urged people to have faith: “We are stronger than any hurricane. Together, we will rebuild.”
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with people seeking shelter inside stairwells, bathrooms and walk-in closets. As Maria slowly crossed the island, it toppled cell phone towers, snapped trees and unleashed heavy flooding, dumping 20 inches of rain so far across Puerto Rico. El Nuevo Dia newspaper reported that an emergency medical station in the north coastal town of Arecibo lost its roof, and communication was severed with several emergency management stations. One hospital and one police station reported broken windows. About 90 percent of customers were without power and one tree fell on an ambulance. Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors, radio station WKAQ 580 AM reported.
The storm was approaching Puerto Rico’s northern coast Wednesday at 12 mph, with top sustained winds of 140 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The eye was about 25 miles west of San Juan.
Previously a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third strongest storm to make landfall in the United States based on a key measurement that meteorologists use: air pressure.
The lower the central pressure a storm the stronger it is and Maria’s pressure was 917 millibars, lower than Irma’s U.S. landfall of 929 millibars in the Florida Keys earlier this month.