Hurricane Maria Destroys Puerto Rico’s Power Grid

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[Breaking news update at 11:53 a.m. ET]

Puerto Rico’s largest airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, will be ready to receive military and rescue operations Thursday and will be open to airline traffic Friday, according to Aerostar Puerto Rico, which manages the airport near San Juan.

For passengers, “We suggest you confirm your flight directly with the airline before heading to the airport.,” Aerostar said. Emergency generators will power the limited operations, and there will be no air conditioning.

[Previous story, published at 11:30 a.m. ET]

Hurricane Maria battered the Dominican Republic on Thursday morning as the long-term devastation in Puerto Rico was just coming into focus.

The Category 3 storm whipped winds to 115 mph as it left torrential rain in the Dominican Republic, the National Hurricane Center said.

Maria will likely strengthen over warm water as it headed toward the Turks and Caicos, endangering low-lying islands with enormous storm surges.

But Maria’s wrath was far from over in Puerto Rico. Dozens of families were rescued from flooding Thursday morning in Levittown, near the capital city of San Juan, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rican governor tweeted.

The Puerto Rican National Guard was still searching for others in need of rescue, she said.

But the task was hampered by a power outage that covered the entire island of 3.4 million people — with officials saying it may be several months before Puerto Ricans get electricity back.

Here’s a look at the islands pummeled by Hurricane Maria:

Puerto Rico: Power system ‘basically … destroyed’

Puerto Ricans, still grappling with intense rain Thursday, might not get power back for four to six months, said Ricardo Ramos, the CEO of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

“The system has been basically destroyed,” Ramos told CNN.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history.”

The US territory has been through a long recession, is deeply in debt and has a state-owned power grid that is “a little bit old, mishandled and weak,” the governor said.

Retired Army veteran Manuel Torres called Maria’s devastation the worst he’d ever seen. His mother’s house in La Perla, an oceanfront community in old San Juan, was destroyed.

Emerging after the storm had passed, Torres found the three-story home reduced to two stories — and without a roof.

Angela Magana, a UFC fighter who lives in the area, said neighbors were helping each other.

“We need cleanup, water, food, and generators,” she told CNN. “There are a lot of old people here who are going without necessities. We need to rebuild and restructure, and we need prayers. Any kind of help we can get because it’s a mess right now.”

While the gusts have subsided, downpours continued in mountainous areas Thursday, meaning water would continue gushing downstream and exacerbate flooding.

On Thursday morning, the island was “completely under a Flash Flood Warning. If possible, move to higher ground NOW,” the National Weather Service in San Juan warned.

“Catastrophic flash flooding continues,” the agency tweeted.

US Virgin Islands: 24-hour curfew in place

Maria also annihilated homes on the US Virgin Islands. On Thursday, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced a 24-hour curfew, effective immediately, on the four main US Virgin Islands — St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.

“Your presence on the roads during the curfew hours will only hamper clean-up efforts and could delay the distribution of critically needed supplies,” Mapp said.

The curfew for the islands will remain in effect until further notice.

One of the hardest hit islands was St. Croix. Aaliyah Bisamber shot video of what was left of her old house on St. of 50,000 people.

Maria didn’t just obliterate homes, it knocked out vital communication lines, resident Murillo Melo said.

“Here on the island and on the mainland, people are trying to get in contact with friends and relatives,” he said. “People are desperate to get some news from their friends and relatives.”

On St. Thomas, retired New York police detective Austin Fields said his home was pummeled.

“My home is no longer a home,” he said.

US President Donald Trump declared the US Virgin Islands a major disaster area and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts.

Dominican Republic braces for flooding

The Dominican Republic couldn’t handle much more rain, with rivers still swollen and the ground still saturated from Hurricane Irma.

But the island of 10.7 million people was getting deluged again. Maria could dump 16 inches of rain on the northern and eastern parts of the island, the hurricane center said. The Turks and Caicos could face the same fate.

“Rainfall on these islands will continue to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the hurricane center said.

Airports on the Dominican Republic had shut down for the storm but were expected reopen at noon ET on Thursday.

Dominica: ‘The need is great’

The hurricane killed at least 14 people on the island of Dominica, and those who were spared have “gone into survival mode,” Charles Jong, a spokesman for Dominica Prime Minister’s office, said late Wednesday.

Desperation for food, water and medical supplies was rampant among Dominica’s 73,000 residents.

“The need is great,” said Philmore Mullin, head of Antigua and Barbuda’s National Office of Disaster Services. “Damage is severe and widespread. We know of casualties, but not in detail. We’ve heard of many missing, but we just don’t know much at the moment.”

Looting had become widespread on the island, Jong said, adding that he’d exhausted his own food and water supplies.

Jong said he’d been through “Hurricanes Hugo, Gilbert, Lenny and many others in St. Kitts, but being in Dominica for Maria was the most horrifying experience.”

Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, is “homeless” and “bunking up in an area called St. Aroment,” Jong said, adding that Skerrit might move into the State House, where the President lives.

A flight Wednesday over the island nation revealed that the storm showed no mercy. Thousands of trees had snapped and were strewn across the landscape, leaving the island stripped of vegetation.

CNN also saw evidence of dozens of landslides, although not in population centers. The usually blue-green sea in many places had been replaced by a muddy brown.

Branson: ‘Climate change is real’

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who rode out Hurricane Irma in his wine cellar on his private island in the British Virgin Islands, told CNN after Maria that “climate change is real.”

“Look, you can never be 100% sure about links,” Branson said. “But scientists have said the storms are going to get more and more and more intense and more and more often. We’ve had four storms within a month, all far greater than that have ever, ever, ever happened in history.”

“Sadly,” he said, “I think this is the start of things to come.”

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