SAN JUAN - Flash floods brought fresh misery to Puerto Rico on Thursday after its infrastructure was shattered by Hurricane Maria as President Donald Trump declared the US territory a disaster zone.
The hurricane, which Trump said had “absolutely obliterated” the island, left its 3.4 million people totally without power and officials said it may be months before it is fully restored.
The storm was blamed for 10 deaths in the Caribbean, including a man in northern Puerto Rico’s Bayamon district who was struck by a board he had used to cover his windows. “Puerto Rico is absolutely obliterated,” Trump told reporters after declaring the island a disaster area in a move that will free up emergency relief funding. “Puerto Rico is in a very, very, very tough shape,” he said. Though the storm had moved back out to sea, authorities declared a flash flood warning for all of Puerto Rico as “torrential” rains continued to lash the island.
“If possible, move to higher ground NOW!” the National Weather Service station in San Juan said in a tweet, calling the flooding “catastrophic.”
Puerto Rico was expected to receive 20 to 30 inches (51 to 76 centimeters) of rain through Saturday, with some isolated areas receiving 35 inches, the National Hurricane Center said.
The rain had turned some roads in the US territory into muddy brown rivers, impassable to all but the largest of vehicles.
Toppled trees, street signs and power cables were strewn across roads that were also littered with debris.
Although Maria has now passed over Puerto Rico and lost some of its power, it is still packing winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and moving northwards towards the Turks and Caicos Islands after brushing the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, who called Maria “the most devastating storm in a century” said the island was having to contend with mass flooding and a total breakdown of its power and telecommunications infrastructure.
Ricardo Ramos, who heads the island’s electricity board, said it could take months before power is fully restored.
“We recognize that the system, you know, has been totally destroyed,” he said of the electricity network.
While the island had suffered major blackouts from previous hurricanes, Ramos said the impact would be felt much more keenly this time.
“Everybody uses, of course, their social media, and the kids play on their electronic games and video games, and now really the customer has changed,” he told CNN.
“I guess it’s a good time for dads to buy a glove and ball and change the way you entertain your children and the way you are going to go to school and the way you are going to cook for gas stoves other than electric.”
In San Juan, where tens of thousands rode out the storm in shelters or else hunkered down in their homes, residents told of their terrifying ordeal.
“This was absolutely the worst experience we’ve had with a hurricane,” Kim Neis, an American who has lived on the island for 30 years, told AFP.
“None of the others were anything like as intense as this.”
Rossello imposed a 6:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew until Saturday and warned of flooding and mudslides.
“I urge the people of Puerto Rico to commit to peace, understanding, and good judgment during these difficult times for our island,” he said.
There were reports of looting and authorities said 10 people had been arrested.
Maria has already torn through several Caribbean islands, leaving at least seven people dead on Dominica.
In the French territory of Guadeloupe, one person was killed by a falling tree as Maria hit, while another died on the seafront.
At least two are missing after their boat sank off the French territory, while 40 percent of households were without power.
Strong winds were recorded in the Dominican Republic on Thursday due to Maria but there were no immediate reports of casualties or serious damage.