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Hurricane Maria kills 18 in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico “annihilated”

Ⓒ AFP – Ricardo ARDUENGO – | A couple walks through a debris-covered road in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico was preparing Thursday to face potentially “catastrophic” floods after Hurricane Maria, which “wiped out” the island and killed at least 18 in the Caribbean.

The hurricane, now classified as category 3 (on a scale of 5), was to pass Thursday a hundred kilometers north of the Dominican Republic, and continue its route to the British Isles Turks and Caicos.

Dominica, struck hard on Tuesday, pays a heavy toll with a balance sheet that rose from 7 to at least 15 dead, according to the Prime Minister of the small territory, Roosevelt Skerrit.

“Puerto Rico is absolutely annihilated,” said US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The island “is in a very, very, very delicate state … The electricity grid is destroyed,” he added, confirming an upcoming visit to the Greater Antilles.

The day before, he declared a state of natural disaster, releasing federal funds for emergency aid and reconstruction in Puerto Rico where most of the infrastructure was damaged.

The hurricane had a “catastrophic” impact on the mobile phone network, said the US Telecommunications Regulatory Agency, estimating that “more than 95% of the terminals” are out of service.

Meanwhile, “we need generators, drinking water, food”, said CNN Carlos Mercader, the spokesman of the governor of the US territory, Ricardo Rossello.

The situation remains critical. “We still have a lot of flooding and the risk of landslides because of the large amounts of rain that have fallen,” he said.

– Pillages –

According to the US Center for Hurricanes (NHC), rains could reach 50 to 75 cm by Saturday, or even 90 cm in places.

Ⓒ AFP – HECTOR RETAMAL – | Residents of San Juan

“If you can, climb to the heights NOW”, launched Thursday at dawn in a tweet the National Meteorological Service, speaking of “catastrophic” floods.

Maria, swinging between categories 4 and 5 when he touched Puerto Rico, did enormous damage and tens of thousands of people gathered in shelters. Plundering took place in several parts of San Juan, the capital, despite a curfew set in place between 6 pm and 6 am local time. According to the government, 10 people were arrested during the night.

“I can not believe that after the mutual help that we have known for Irma, we have now to undergo the looting,” said Alex Garcia, a volunteer who crisscrossed Thursday morning the tourist area of ​​” Ocean Park totally flooded, to ensure that the refugees on the upper floors of the buildings were fine.

Around San Juan, several dozens of families had to flee during the night the rise of the waters.

A video posted on social networks by a resident of the Toa Baja neighborhood shows the waves reaching the second floor of her house. “We are trapped, God does not help us, we can not do anything,” laments this woman. “We can not climb (on the roof) because of the wind, look at the waves of water,” she says.

Maria is “the most devastating storm” of the century, according to the authorities of the island. In 1928, Hurricane Okeechobee had killed 300 people.

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“The San Juan that we knew yesterday has disappeared,” said the mayor of the capital, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

The island of 3.5 million people could be deprived of electricity “for four to six months,” she predicted, quoted by NBC.

– Dominica ‘practically ravaged’ –

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A man died in Bayamon, in the northeast of the island, struck by a plank he had used to block a window and the wind had snatched it, the government said.

Like Puerto Rico, several Caribbean islands were touched by Maria, after Irma two weeks ago.

In Guadeloupe, hit on Tuesday, at least two people died and two others are missing at sea.

Further south, Dominica is “worse than a battle zone” after Maria’s passage Tuesday, said Skerrit. “So far, we have buried at least 15 people,” he said on television in Antigua and Barbuda, a neighboring country. “It will be a miracle if we do not have other deaths” while some twenty people are missing and a part of the island remains cut off from the world.

AFP aerial images show part of Dominica littered with debris, including torn roofs. The Caribbean Emergencies Center (CDEMA) estimates damage to “70-80% of buildings” according to its director, Ronald Jackson.

The US Virgin Islands also suffered from the hurricane, but no casualties were reported at that stage, while Irma killed 9 people. Maria also seems to have spared the Franco-Dutch island of St. Martin, where Irma had killed 15 people.

burs-CYJ / sf

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