Another week, another hurricane

Powerful Category 4 Maria slams into Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico pummeled the island today, 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 today in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph 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.

Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.

As Maria approached, U.S. President Donald Trump offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!”

More than 4,400 people were in shelters by late Tuesday, along with 105 pets, Rossello said.

The storm’s center passed near or over St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to insist that people remain alert. St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds, Mapp said.

“For folks in their homes, I really recommend that you not be in any kind of sleepwear,” he said. “Make sure you have your shoes on. Make sure you have a jacket around. Something for your head in case your roof should breach. … I don’t really recommend you be sleeping from 11 o’clock to 4 (a.m.) … Be aware of what’s going on around you.”

Maria killed two people in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, officials said. About 40 percent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.

The storm also blew over the tiny eastern Caribbean island of Dominica late Monday, where Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page, including that his own roof had blown away.

To the north, Hurricane Jose weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday night. Forecasters said dangerous surf and rip currents were likely to continue along the U.S. East Coast but said the storm was unlikely to make landfall.

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