Puerto Rico woke up to no power, no cellphone coverage and flooded streets on Thursday – and the knowledge that its misery wasn’t over yet.
Maria hit the Caribbean country overnight at Category 4 level – the strongest hurricane to strike in 90 years – knocking down buildings and tearing up towns with 155mph winds.
Now it has moved on, and downgraded to Category 3, but the rains that surround the eye of the storm continue.
They are expected to bring 24-38 inches of rainfall to the beleaguered island, along with flash floods and mudslides, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
And now Maria is heading towards the mainland.
Residents of Juana Matos, Puerto Rico, wade through waist-high water on Thursday after their community was battered by Hurricane Maria – and more misery is to come for them
The streets of Juana Matos, Catano in Puerto Rico were already flooded on Thursday after Maria dumped 35 inches of rain onto the island – and now a further 38 inches of rain is expected to fall as Maria’s tail sweeps over it
Cars drive through a flooded road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan (left), while rough surf slams into Old San Juan (right)
This house in the Puerto Rican town of Catano was completely obliterated in the storm, which has also knocked out power and cell phone communication to the island
A resident surveys the damage on what remains of her property after Hurricane Maria struck. As well as no electricity and cell phone coverage, many have been left without running water
Maria was at Category 4 level when it hit Puerto Rico, and has fallen to Category 3 since, but will continue to pound the island with rain and wind
Maria is now heading northwest and is expected to sweep around in a curve alongside the East Coast of the US mainland. While it’s not yet projected to make landfall, it will have adverse effects on coastal areas
The storm is expected to create 30-foot waves in its center (purple area) on Sunday; while the areas closer to the coast will not be as badly hit, they’re likely to have choppy seas and deadly rip currents that could kill unwary swimmers
Maria, which has killed at least 18 people and devastated several small islands, including St Croix in the US Virgin Islands, and Dominica, is likely to remain at Category 3 over the coming days.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello one death had been reported in his territory so far – a man struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds.
‘It’s nothing short of a major disaster,’ he told CNN. It could take six months for electricity to be completely restored to the island, which has a population of 3.4 million.
He imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew through Saturday, while the National Weather Service tweeted a flash flood warning, saying: ‘If possible, move to higher ground NOW!’
However, many on the island will not have seen it, as more than 95 per cent of wireless cell sites were not working on Thursday afternoon on the island, the US Federal Communications Commission said.
Utility crews from the US mainland were headed there to help try to restore the battered power grid, while the US military has sent ground forces and aircraft to assist with search and rescue.
But their going will be tough: Rain has turned some roads into muddy brown rivers, impassable to all but the largest of vehicles, and many are strewn with debris and toppled trees, street signs and power cables.
‘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.’
Maria is taking a very similar route to that of Hurricane Irma – but while Irma only grazed Puerto Rico, Maria has absolutely ‘obliterated’ it, in the words of President Donald Trump. It could reinvigorate to Category 4 as it heads toward the US
Residents of the Guaynabo suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, clear the streets of fallen foliage in the wake of the terrifying onslaught. It could take six months for power to be fully restored to the island
A dog is trapped in rubble of a home in the La Perla neighborhood, crying endlessly. The neighbor said his family came back and left food and water, and eventually hoped to rescue the dog
A man walks on a highway divider while carrying his bicycle in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Young people row on a kayak down a street flooded by Hurricane Maria in Juana Matos, Puerto Rico
The edges of Old San Juan were battered after Maria passed through Puerto Rico, causing flooding, strong winds and chaos. Flash floods from rain are now expected
Damaged sail boats washed ashore are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Fajardo, Puerto Rico
After leaving Puerto Rico, Maria flooded parts of the Dominican Republic, then regained some of its strength as it approached the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night.
As well as the rain expected to hit Puerto Rico once again, Maria will bring 8-16 inches to the Turks and Caicos, which could cause flash floods and mudslides, the NHC said.
Maria is now predicted to continue northward, maintaining its current strength of 125mph sustained winds, as it moves towards the East Coast of America.
The hurricane – which could increase to Category 4 as warm Atlantic waters reinvigorate it, according to Weather.com – is unlikely to make landfall on the US.
However, high surf and deadly rip currents are guaranteed for cities along the southeast coastline, from Florida to North Carolina.
Anyone planning a weekend at the beach is strongly advised to avoid swimming as dangerous swells threaten to drag down and drown the unwary swimmer.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico will struggle to piece itself back together.
In the historic heart of the island’s capital San Juan, which has a fort and buildings from the Spanish colonial era, the storm left a litter of wreckage.
Roads were blocked by downed foliage and firefighters and rescue officials wielded chainsaws to cut through the debris.
Demolished houses are seen in Juana Matos, Catano, Puerto Rico. The island faces an uphill struggle to rebuild in the face of further storms
People are transported down a road flooded by Hurricane Maria in Juana Matos, Catanon, Puerto Rico, using a digger
Julia Davila, who stayed in a shelter at San Juan City Hall, returns to her ruined La Perla neighborhood in Old San Juan to check out the damage
Three men walk between downed power lines in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Luquillo, Puerto Rico. Was wll as there being no power, the island has no cell phone signal
Fabian Delgado stands in the ruins the home of Manuel Torres, his mother’s uncle’s, home while residents of La Perla neighborhood in Old San Juan
San Juan airport reopened for military and relief flights on Thursday, with plans for a limited resumption of commercial flights on Friday.
With electricity and communications knocked out across the island, workdays evaporated and people busied themselves with securing food, checking on their battered homes and collecting rain water.
South of the capital in Cataño, about 10 residents whose homes were flooded sat around a pickup truck on the edge of the waters and mixed a cocktail of grapefruit juice, cranberry, ice and vodka that they called ‘matatiempo’ or ‘killing time.’
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, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.
Donald Trump told reporters the island had been ‘totally obliterated’ and that he planned to visit.
Maria struck Dominica as a Category 5 storm on Monday night, damaging about 95 per cent of the roofs on the island, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
At least 14 people on the island died, Charles Jong, a spokesman for the Dominica prime minister’s office, told CNN.
Two people were killed in the French territory of Guadeloupe and one person on the US Virgin Islands. In the latter, more than three-quarters of cell sites are out of service.
Downed traffic lights and power lines are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Luquillo, Puerto Rico
Residents return to La Perla neighborhood in Old San Juan to view damage
A municipal government worker clears a road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico
Cars drive through a flooded road in the aftermath of the savagely destructive Hurricane
Maria passed close by the US Virgin Island of St Croix, home to about 55,000 people, early on Wednesday as a rare and ferocious Category 5 storm, knocking out electricity and most mobile phone service.
‘The worst is behind us,’ Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp told reporters on Thursday. ‘Now is [the] time to march forward and build a better community, a better territory.’
About 600 people throughout the US Virgin Islands are in emergency shelters and many parts are without power, Mapp said.
‘It’s going to be a long road to recovery,’ Mapp said. ‘It ain’t going to happen in a week or two and it definitely ain’t going to happen in a few months.’
Maria hit about two weeks after Hurricane Irma pounded two other US Virgin Islands: St Thomas and St John.
Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, killed at least 84 people in the Caribbean and the United States.
It followed Harvey, which killed more than 80 people when it hit Texas in late August and caused historic flooding in Houston.
More than two months remain in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
Julia Davila who stayed in shelter at City Hall returns to her La Perla neighborhood in Old San Juan to view damage