Reuters/San Juan, Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria lashed the Turks and Caicos Islands yesterday after destroying homes, causing widespread flooding, crippling economies and killing at least 25 people on Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands.
Maria was the second major hurricane to hit the Caribbean this month and the strongest storm to hit the US territory of Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years.
It completely knocked out the island’s power, and several rivers hit record flood levels.
Puerto Rico officials said yesterday that six people had been confirmed killed by the storm: Three died in landslides in Utuadno, in the island’s mountainous centre; two drowned in flooding in Toa Baja, west of San Juan, and one died in Bayamon, also near San Juan, after being stuck by a panel.
Earlier news media reports had the death toll on the island as high as 15. “At the moment these are fatalities we know of. We know of other potential fatalities through unofficial channels that we haven’t been able to confirm,” said Hector Pesquera, the government’s secretary of public safety.
Around San Juan, people worked to clear debris from the streets yesterday and some began to reopen businesses, though they wondered how long they could operate without power and with limited inventory.
“There’s no water, no power, nothing,” said Rogelio Jimenez, a 34-year-old restaurant worker, as he cleared fallen roofing from the front of his pizzeria.
“We’re opening today,” he said, estimating that the restaurant had enough supplies to last a week. “If there’s nothing after that, we’ll close.”
Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew through Saturday for the island’s 3.4mn people.
He said about 700 people had been rescued from floodwaters and communication was difficult with the southeastern part of the island.
Puerto Rico was already facing the largest municipal debt crisis in US history.
A team of judges overseeing its bankruptcy has advised involved parties to put legal proceedings on hold indefinitely as the island recovers, said a source familiar with the proceedings.
The storm was expected to cause $45bn of damage across the Caribbean, with at least $30bn of that in Puerto Rico, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeller at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
The figures included both physical damage and losses in business from tourism. Maria’s tail end was still bringing drenching rain to Puerto Rico, and some parts of the island could have accumulated totals of up to 40 inches (101 cm) from the storm, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, 14 deaths were reported on the island nation of Dominica, which has a population of about 71,000.
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