In Pics: Toppled trees, lashings of rain as Hurricane Maria batters Puerto Rico
The Category 4 storm comes only weeks after Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean and parts of the US.
Hurricane Maria roared ashore in Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in about 90 years after lashing the US Virgin Islands and devastating a string of tiny Caribbean islands, killing at least two people.
The Category 4-storm, with winds of 155 mph (250 kph), tore off roofs and sent doors flying off their hinges. The US National Hurricane Center warned of “large and destructive waves” as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the south-east coast.
Maria is the second major hurricane to roar through the Caribbean this month. The hurricane slammed Yabucoa, on the southwest coast of the island of 3.4 million people, where thousands of people sought safety in shelters.
Maria’s eye was located about 25 kilometers southwest of San Juan at 9 am eastern time, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance. Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building’s second and third floors, reported a local radio station.
Puerto Rico has 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.
Maria struck just days after the region was punched by Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, which left a trail of destruction on several Caribbean islands and Florida.
“We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history,” Ricardo Rossello, governor of Puerto Rico, said in a televised message on Tuesday.
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.