A stunned Puerto Rico seeks to rebuild after Hurricane Maria
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans stunned by a hurricane that knocked out power for the whole island and paralyzed the U.S. territory with landslides, flooding and downed trees vowed to slowly rebuild amid an economic crisis as rescue crews fanned out Thursday.
The extent of the damage is unknown given that dozens of municipalities remained isolated and without communication after Maria hit the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years.
Uprooted trees and widespread flooding blocked many highways and streets across the island, creating a maze that forced drivers to go against traffic and past police cars that used loudspeakers to warn people they must respect a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed by the governor to ensure everyone’s safety.
“This is going to be a historic event for Puerto Rico,” said Abner Gomez, the island’s emergency management director.
President Donald Trump approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.
Previously a Category 5 with 175 mph (281 kph) winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S., based on its central pressure. It was even stronger than Hurricane Irma that storm roared into the Florida Keys earlier this month.
In the capital of San Juan, towering eucalyptus trees fell nearly every other block over a main road dotted with popular bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, some of which were damaged. Outside a nearby apartment building, 40-year-old tourism company operator Adrian Pacheco recounted how he spent eight hours in a stairwell huddled with 100 other residents when the hurricane ripped the storm shutters off his building and decimated three balconies.
“I think people didn’t expect the storm to reach the point that it did,” he said. “Since Irma never really happened, they thought Maria would be the same.”
Hurricane Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico on Sept. 6, leaving more than 1 million people without power but causing no deaths or widespread damage like it did on nearby islands. Maria, however, blew out windows at some hospitals and police stations, turned some streets into roaring rivers and destroyed hundreds of homes across Puerto Rico, including 80 percent of houses in a small fishing community near the San Juan Bay, which unleashed a storm surge of more than 4 feet.
“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press.