SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria churned across Puerto Rico Wednesday as the most powerful storm to strike the island in more than 80 years, knocking out power and water to nearly the entire population and leaving people huddled in buildings to ride out powerhouse winds that have already left death and devastation across the Caribbean.
“On the forecast track, [Maria] would be the most destructive hurricane in Puerto Rico history,” tweeted Eric Blake, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center.
The storm first slammed the coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds — the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads, and cut power to nearly the entire island.
In Guayama, on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, video clips posted on social media showed a street turned into a river of muddy floodwaters. In the community of Juan Matos, located in Cataño, west of San Juan, 80 percent of the structures were destroyed, the mayor of Cataño told El Nuevo Dia, and half of the municipal employees lost their homes.
“The area is completely flooded. Water got into the houses. The houses have no roof. Most of them are made of wood and zinc, and electric poles fell on them,” the mayor told the publication.
— WXChasing (@bclemms) September 20, 2017
In the capital of San Juan, buildings shook and glass windows shattered from the force of the storm. Residents of some high-rise apartments sought refuge in bathrooms and first-floor lobbies, but even those who sought out safe ground found themselves vulnerable.
— Rosaline Cabrera (@rosalinetweets) September 20, 2017
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) September 20, 2017
Adriana Rosado and her husband decided to stay in the Ciqala Luxury Suites hotel in San Juan’s Miramar neighborhood because it had a generator, and would be able to withstand power outages. It seemed like the safest, most comfortable option for their 2-month-old son to have access to electricity, air conditioning and water.