As Major Hurricane Maria swept into the Turks and Caicos on Friday, officials in island nations already devastated by the storm announced more deaths amid the widespread destruction.
In Puerto Rico, where the death toll is expected to continue to rise, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said at least 13 people have died on the island or in nearby waters due to the hurricane. He told The Weather Channel they were attempting to reach the most remote areas of the island by helicopter, as travel has been crippled by debris and downed power lines on Puerto Rico’s roads.
The storm has contributed to at least 30 deaths, including 15 from the obliterated Caribbean island of Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced Thursday.
Skerrit addressed his nation from Antigua Thursday afternoon, saying the storm was “brutal” to the Caribbean island. He confirmed 15 deaths – a toll that’s likely to rise as word comes from isolated villages – in the country, with at least 20 more missing.
At least two deaths were reported in Puerto Rico, including a man died who died off the coast of the island Wednesday after a boat capsized near Vieques, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. In a search and rescue effort by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy, a woman and two children also on the boat were rescued.
The rescue came after a distress call was received from the vessel, stating they were disabled and adrift in 20-foot seas and 120 mph winds. The Coast Guard said it lost contact with the vessel because of the weather.
The Coast Guard also said they were unable to retrieve the man’s body from the capsized vessel.
Tens of thousands were left without power in the Dominican Republic as the deadly storm swamped the country with torrential rainfall.
“In the south zone, there are four circuits out of service, and about 40,613 customers, or 30 percent of the population,” Dominican Corporation of State Electrical Companies (CDEEE) Emergency Operations Center representative Ernesto Perez told DominicanToday.com.
He added that 45 of the east region’s 204 circuits were affected, which amounts to 100,000 customers. A downed power line between the towns of Playa Dorada and Cabarete has left the country’s entire north coast without power.
The local Emergency Operations Center (COE) said 9,990 people were evacuated from their homes and most of the country was placed under flash flood and landslide warning, reports DominicanToday.com.
Residents of Puerto Rico woke Thursday to massive destruction in the wake of the hurricane and a new reality – one without electricity, water and, for many, a home to return to once roads cluttered with debris and power lines are cleared.
The storm smashed into the U.S. territory Wednesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, twisting metal, snapping trees and utility poles and effectively paralyzing the island.
“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 Cataño, told the Associated Press.
On Thursday, the National Guard rescued dozens of families from rooftops in flooded Levittown, east of San Juan.
The extent of the damage is still unknown given that dozens of municipalities remained isolated and without communication, the AP reported.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for the territory that is home to 3.4 million people, making federal funding available to Puerto Ricans affected by the storm.
The director of the State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Management, Abner Gómez, said that 100 percent of the subscribers of the island’s Electric Energy Authority are affected, Primera Hora reported.
“When we can get outside – we will find our island destroyed,” Gómez said. “The information we received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its wake.”
There are also reports of widespread damage on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the VI Consortium said, and many are pleading for help in compromised buildings. Major flooding is being reported on St. Thomas.
In San Juan, metal roofs flew off buildings and windows broke even before Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 storm on the island’s southeastern coast early Wednesday morning.
“No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe II in 1928,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday. “This is an unprecedented atmospheric system.”
Those who sought shelter at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors. According to El Nuevo Dia, the exterior roof of the coliseum is now “in pieces.”
As the worst of the storm hit, people calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island’s southern region, the AP reports. Meanwhile, widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan.
The storm has also done major damage to Cataño, a western suburb of the city. Mayor Felix Delgado told Nueva Dia the neighborhoods of Cucharilla, Puente Blanco and La Puntilla are “destroyed.” Delgado also reported damage in the Juana Matos neighborhood, where 80 percent of the 457 houses in the area “should no longer exist.”
“This generation is going to build the new Cataño,” Delgado said. “We have to build the new Cataño, after Maria.”
U.S. Virgin Islands
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced a 24-hour curfew Thursday morning on the four main U.S. Virgin Islands — St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.
“Your presence on the roads during the curfew hours will only hamper clean-up efforts and could delay the distribution of critically needed supplies,” Mapp said.
Communications were down across the islands Wednesday and the local government was working to assess the damage, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency emergency operations supervisor Garry Green told the New York Times.
Photos and videos posted to social media out of the U.S. Virgin Islands showed major flooding on St. Thomas. On St. Croix, WTJX reporter Bob Tonge said the roads were blocked with downed wires and electrical poles.
WTJX also reported numerous roofs were ripped off buildings in Christiansted town. Roads there remain impassable.
There is still little word from Dominica after Maria crushed the island nation on Tuesday. An advisor to Skerrit said seven people had died on the island, the AP reported.
With communication systems down, including electricity, phone lines and internet, much of the information coming from the devastated island is through HAM radio operators.
Initial images show a once tropical paradise that is home to more than 73,000 people turned into a wasteland of crushed homes and smashed vehicles. Areas with more than 90 percent of roofs ripped off of buildings are being reported.
An advisor to Skerrit was able to convey the news that seven people had died after speaking with the prime minister via satellite phone. Advisor Hartley Henry didn’t give details about how the deaths occurred, the AP noted. Henry added that there has been a “tremendous loss of housing and public buildings.”
Guadeloupe and Martinique
According to the Préfecture of Guadeloupe, one person was killed Tuesday morning on the French island after being struck by a falling tree. Authorities note that the person did not heed orders to remain indoors. A second death was reported Wednesday by the AP. Two people are also reported missing after a boat sank near the island of La Désirade.
Guadeloupe’s Préfecture office said most of the island’s roads are impassable from downed trees and flooding. While the majority of the buildings remain structurally sound, numerous roofs were ripped off.
In another French territory, Martinique, authorities said some 70,000 homes were without power and 50,000 without water, but the airport at Fort-de-France was reopened Tuesday.