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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 18 December, 2017
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Whole of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Maria hammers through the island

People calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island’s southern region.

Dominican Republic Hurricane Maria Men wade through a flooded Alemania Avenue as Hurricane Maria reaches the coast of Bavaro, Dominican Republic. Source: Tatiana Fernandez via AP

Updated at 10.30pm

THE STRONGEST HURRICANE to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and triggered heavy flooding today in an onslaught that could plunge the US territory deeper into financial crisis.

Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a category 4 storm with winds of 250 kilometres per hour.

It was expected to punish the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” said Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico’s emergency management director.

“The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

It was the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico felt the wrath of a hurricane.

There was no immediate word of any deaths or serious injuries.

As people waited it out in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms and closets, Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs and unloaded at least 20 inches of rain.

Widespread flooding was reported, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighbourhoods and many streets turned into rivers. People calling local radio stations reported that doors were being torn off their hinges and a water tank flew away.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80% of the 454 homes in a neighbourhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed.

The fishing community on San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” he said.

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Rescue team member Jonathan Cruz cries on the floor as he waits to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico. Source: Carlos Giusti via AP

Extended power outages

Many people feared extended power outages would further sink businesses struggling amid a recession that has lasted more than a decade.

“This is going to be a disaster,” said Jean Robert Auguste, who owns two French restaurants and sought shelter at a San Juan hotel. “We haven’t made any money this month.”

More than 11,000 people – and more than 580 pets – were in shelters, authorities said.

Along the island’s northern coast, an emergency medical station in the town of Arecibo lost its roof, while communication was severed with several emergency management posts. A hospital and a police station reported broken windows, and a tree fell on an ambulance.

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria A downed tree blocks a street during Hurricane Maria in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Source: Jason Heskew via AP

As the storm closed in on the Dominican Republic, about 4,000 tourists in the Bavaria-Punta Cana area on the eastern tip of the island were moved to hotels in Santo Domingo, the capital.

Maria posed no immediate threat to the US mainland. The long-range forecast showed the storm out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles off the Georgia-South Carolina coast by Monday morning.

No category 4 since 1932

The last category 4 hurricane to blow ashore in Puerto Rico was in 1932, and the strongest ever to hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 250 kilometres per hour.

As Maria closed in, 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!”

Dominican Republic Hurricane Maria A woman covers herself with a plastic bag as she makes her way to work as Hurricane Maria approaches the coast of Bavaro, Dominican Republic. Source: Tatiana Fernandez via AP

The storm’s centre passed near or over St Croix overnight last night, prompting US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp to warn people to sleep in their street clothes and shoes just in case. St Croix was largely spared by Irma.

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries on St Croix, but it was still too dangerous Wednesday to venture out and conduct a thorough check, said Nykole Tyson, a spokeswoman at the US Virgin Islands Emergency Operations Center.

On the island of Dominica, which got slammed late on Monday, Hartley Henry, an adviser to the prime minister, reported at least seven deaths and a “tremendous loss of housing and public buildings.” He said the country was “in a daze,” with no electricity and little to no communications.

Dominica’s airport and seaports remained closed, and authorities used helicopters to carry emergency food, water and shelter materials to the island, said Ronald Jackson, head of the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency.

Read: ‘Thank you for filling my life with joy’: Tributes paid to six-year-old who died in Grenfell fire

More: Frantic searches continue as 30 children are still missing after Mexico earthquake

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