After mauling Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria delivered a weaker but still punishing blow Thursday to the Dominican Republic with winds near 115 mph and driving rains as the storm carved an arc of misery through the Caribbean.
Maria — now a Category 3 hurricane — was expected to gather some fresh strength over open water before taking aim at the Turks and Caicos Islands, which were battered earlier this month by Hurricane Irma on its deadly path toward Florida.
But Maria may spare the U.S. mainland. The current National Hurricane Center forecasts show it veering sharply to the north and spinning up the Atlantic in the corridor between Bermuda and the Atlantic seaboard. But Maria’s ultimate path — either closer or farther from the U.S. coast — was still unclear and influenced by weather forces from the remnants of Hurricane Jose now off New England.
On Puerto Rico, the full extent of Maria’s fury was still being tallied. But it was clear that the rebuilding process will be massive after the island’s power grid and other services were effectively wiped away. Maria on Wednesday knocked out 100 percent of the island’s electrical grid, toppled cellphone towers and left many towns cut off by landslides or floods of muddy torrents.
“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” Abner Gómez, director of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, told reporters Wednesday as the storm engulfed the entire island. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path.”
It was the first Category 4 storm to strike the island directly since 1932. The devastation, too, is something the island has not seen in generations.
“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” Felix Delgado, the mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told the Associated Press.
First responders, including a fire-rescue team deployed from Fairfax, Va., had to ride out the storm for hours before emerging to help people late Wednesday. In the meantime, calls to emergency services went in vain. A family in the southern coastal town of Guayama, for example, reportedly pleaded for help as they were trapped in their home with rising water.
In Hato Rey, a San Juan business district, a woman sought assistance as she was experiencing labor pains. “Unfortunately, our staff cannot leave,” Gómez said at the news conference. “They will be rescued later.”