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Hurricane Maria churns through Caribbean as ravaged Puerto Rico takes stock of an 'island destroyed'

By Samantha Schmidt, Sandhya Somashekhar

September 21, 2017 at 11:16 AM

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Residents of Cataño, Puerto Rico, contended with homes destroyed by wind and flooding after Hurricane Maria passed over the island on Sept. 20. (Hector Santos Guia, Mardelis Jusino Ortiz, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Search-and-rescue efforts on this storm-ravaged island redoubled Thursday as residents took stock of the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, which continued to plague the U.S. territory in the form of dangerous flash floods even as its core drifted northwest to deliver a weaker but still punishing blow to the Dominican Republic.

The powerful storm knocked out power to the entire island and felled cellphone towers, leaving many residents unable to call for help or communicate with family members. Downed trees blocked roadways, some of which were turned into fast-flowing, muddy rivers. The obstacles complicated efforts to assess the full scope of damage, though authorities are already estimating that the potential cost could to reach into the billions.

“Today, we’re working on that assessment, evaluating what in terms of money what is the real cost of the aftermath of the hurricane,” said Carlos Mercader, a Washington-based spokesman for Gov. Ricardo Roselló. “But I can tell you, from what I’ve been hearing from the governor, there’s total devastation.”

A more immediate concern for many here, however, is flooding as the trailing bands of Maria continue to deliver waves of heavy rainfall. “Catastrophic flooding is occurring on the island, especially in areas of mountainous terrain, and everyone in Puerto Rico should continue to follow advice from local officials to avoid these life-threatening flooding conditions,” the National Hurricane Center said in its mid-morning advisory.

Some relief organizations, such as Save the Children and Catholic Charities, are holding off operations until they can be certain that conditions on the ground are safe.

Images trickling out of the U.S. territory, home to about 3.5 million Americans, show blown-out windows and roofs peeled off the tops of buildings, the interiors open to the elements. Enormous trees were pulled out by their roots, their branches stripped bare by the hurricane-force winds. Neighbors helped each other clear out downed trees and sweep up piles of broken glass from their businesses.

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Hurricane Maria is pushing off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm after slamming into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. (AP)

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.

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 the 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.

Related: [Maps: What’s in the path of Hurricane Maria]

Before striking Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria pummeled parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where authorities also continued to arduous task of assessing and clearing out the damage wrought by both Maria and Irma. Kenneth E. Mapp, governor of the territory, on Thursday morning announced an immediate, indefinite curfew on St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island to give space to repair crews.

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

It also devastated the island nation of Dominica, where the prime minister said Thursday that at least 15 were confirmed dead and another 20 were missing in the wake of the storm, according to the Associated Press.

MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Residents of San Lorenzo neighborhood can't access their houses because the river destroyed the bridge that communicate them with the main road of access. The mountain town of Morovis, in the south west of San Juan, is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: A family cross the San Lorenzo River in Morovis. Residents of San Lorenzo neighborhood can't access their houses because the river destroyed the bridge that communicate them with the main road of access. The mountain town of Morovis, in the south west of San Juan, is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: A group of people wait on top of a broken bridge in Morovis. Residents of San Lorenzo neighborhood can't access their houses because the river destroyed the bridge that communicate them with the main road of access. The mountain town of Morovis, in the south west of San Juan, is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Fema first responders survey the San Lorenzo River area. San Lorenzo neighborhood in Morovis still incommunicated. Residents of San Lorenzo neighborhood can't access their houses because the river destroyed the bridge that communicate them with the main road of access. The mountain town of Morovis, in the south west of San Juan, is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
MOROVIS, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Wilfredo Cruz and Soraida Sierra family house was destroyed by hurricane Maria. The mountain town of Morovis, in the south west of San Juan, is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Edwin Rivera put away damaged belongings in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: A woman waits outside her car in a line for gasoline in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: People wait in a gas station line in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Joanyely Ayende (10 years) help cleaning her house in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Julio Otero cleans inside a restaurant bar that was flooded in Toa Baja.The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: A Rosary stands inside a flooded car in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
TOA BAJA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 25: Volunteers serve food to police and gasoline station workers in Toa Baja. The costal town of Toa Baja, in the north the island, is one of the most affected by flooding after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
JUNCOS PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 24: Meryanne Aldea loss everything ate her house after the winds of hurricane Maria ripped away her roof. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane María. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
JUNCOS PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 24: Meryanne Aldea loss everything at her house after the winds of hurricane Maria ripped away her roof. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
JUNCOS PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 24: A man cut branches that fell over his property in Juncos. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane María. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
JUNCOS PUERTO RICO – SEPTEMBER 24: Juan Ramon Velazquez cleans up debris on the second floor of his residence. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane María. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
JUNCOS PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 24: Sunday mass at San Juan Bautista Church at Valencia Arriba, Juncos. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected after the pass of Hurricane Mar�a. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
Family members collect belongings after hurricane force winds destroyed their house in Toa Baja, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Authorities in Puerto Rico rushed on September 23, 2017 to evacuate people living downriver from a dam said to be in danger of collapsing because of flooding from Hurricane Maria. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
epa06224396 A picture made available on 24 September 2017 shows a general view of a flooded establishment in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 23 September 2017. Puerto Rico hopes that the arrival of aid from the United States, in the form of food, supplies and technical personnel, will help improve the situation three days after Hurricane Maria that left at least seven people dead, according to official figures from the Government, although municipal sources put the figure at more than 12. EPA-EFE/Thais Llorca QUALITY REPEAT
epa06224395 A picture made available on 24 September 2017 shows a general view of a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 23 September 2017. Puerto Rico hopes that the arrival of aid from the United States, in the form of food, supplies and technical personnel, will help improve the situation three days after Hurricane Maria that left at least seven people dead, according to official figures from the Government, although municipal sources put the figure at more than 12. EPA-EFE/Thais Llorca QUALITY REPEAT
People collect water from a natural spring created by the landslides in a mountain next to a road in Corozal, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria. Authorities in Puerto Rico rushed on September 23, 2017 to evacuate people living downriver from a dam said to be in danger of collapsing because of flooding from Hurricane Maria. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
epa06225032 Inhabitants queue to receive supplies from authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 24 September 2017. Puerto Rico hopes that the arrival of aid from the United States, in the form of food, supplies and technical personnel, will help improve the situation three days after Hurricane Maria that left a provisional death toll of 9, and 15,000 refugees. EPA-EFE/Thais Llorca
National Guard Soldiers arrive at Barrio Obrero in Santurce to distribute water and food among those affected by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Gov. Ricardo Rossello said "This is a major disaster." "We've had extensive damage. This is going to take some time." (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 23: Lines at a gas station at Morovis Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 23: Gas lines in San Juan, people have to wait in line for almost 3 hours in order to get gasoline. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 23: People gathered at the old Telegraph building in San Juan to use a free wifi signal that has been opened. Communications have been precarious and nearly impossible in the island. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 23: People gathered at the old Telegraph building in San Juan to use a free wifi signal that has been opened. Communications have been precarious and nearly impossible in the island. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 23: A devastated house in Morovis Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 22: Ocean Park community in San Juan stills underwater. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 22: Damaged airplanes at Vieques Airport. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
A woman looks at the damages in the neighbour's house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
People walk next to damaged houses after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Damaged bicycles are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A local looks at the devastation left by Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
Damaged sail boats washed ashore are seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called "the most devastating storm in a century," had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
A man looks at the damage in a marina after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Toa Baja, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 21: A car stands in the middle of a flooded street in Levittown. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. In the community of Levittown dozens where evacuated last night, but others still wait for the help to come. Levittown, Toa Baja September 21, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
Chairs are seen in front of a flooded house in Juana Matos, Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called "the most devastating storm in a century," had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A man uses a stand up paddle board to row down a street flooded by Hurricane Maria in Juana Matos, Catano, Puerto Rico, on September 21, 2017. Puerto Rico braced for potentially calamitous flash flooding after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island and knocked out the entire electricity grid. The hurricane, which Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello called "the most devastating storm in a century," had battered the island of 3.4 million people after roaring ashore early Wednesday with deadly winds and heavy rain. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A man walks before a fallen tree in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Thursday, September 21, 2017 in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria Landfalls in Puerto Rico San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
Trees are toppled in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A man looks as trees are toppled in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Rain and wind hit a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Residents seek shelter inside Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, early on September 20, 2017, as Hurricane Maria passes the island. Hurricane Maria closed in on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on September 20 as forecasters warned of a "potentially catastrophic" storm that has already killed at least two people in the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
A man passes through a door at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which suffered damages from wind on September 20, 2017, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
People arrive to the Emergency Operation Centre looking for shelter after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A parking lot is flooded near Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 20, 2017, during Hurricane Maria. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island's worst storm in living memory. After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico's southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Residents of San Juan, Puerto Rico, deal with damages to their homes on September 20, 2017, as Hurricane Maria batters the island. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island's worst storm in living memory. After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico's southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 20: Fishing boats with severe damage at Club Nautico in the San Juan Bay. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 20: Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 20: A mattress, that fell from the third floor lays at ground level surrounded with debris from neighboring apartments at Ciudadela complex in Santurce. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 20: A destroyed residential and comercial building in the waterfront neighborhood of el Condado in San Juan. Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico leaving behind a path of destruction across the national territory. San Juan September 20, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
Concrete power line poles lies on a highway after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Luquillo, Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
A woman pulls a trash can past a destroyed home as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico in Fajardo, on September 20, 2017. Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, pummeling the US territory after already killing at least two people on its passage through the Caribbean. The US National Hurricane Center warned of "large and destructive waves" as Maria came ashore near Yabucoa on the southeast coast. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGORICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
Residents of San Juan, Puerto Rico, deal with damages to their homes on September 20, 2017, as Hurricane Maria batters the island. Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, cutting power on most of the US territory as terrified residents hunkered down in the face of the island's worst storm in living memory. After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands, Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico's southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph). / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
CORRECTS DAY OF WEEK TO WEDNESDAY FROM TUESDAY - Rescue team members Candida Lozada, left, and Stephanie Rivera, second from left, Mary Rodriguez, second from right, and Zuly Ruiz, right, embrace as they wait to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
TOPSHOT - A picture shows the ocean on September 18, 2017, in Basse-Terre, on the Fench Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, as Hurricane Maria approaches the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria strengthened rapidly on September 18 as it blasted towards the eastern Caribbean, forcing exhausted islanders -- still recovering from megastorm Irma -- to brace for the worst again. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the "major hurricane" had intensified to Category 3 as it approached the French island of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands devastated by Irma this month. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrick Isham CALVADOSCEDRICK ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - A man and a boy nail a board over a window on September 18, 2017, in Trois-Rivieres, on the Fench Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, as Hurricane Maria approaches the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria strengthened rapidly on September 18 as it blasted towards the eastern Caribbean, forcing exhausted islanders -- still recovering from megastorm Irma -- to brace for the worst again. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the "major hurricane" had intensified to Category 3 as it approached the French island of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands devastated by Irma this month. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrick Isham CALVADOSCEDRICK ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows the powerful winds and rains of hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrik-Isham CalvadosCEDRIK-ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows the powerful winds and rains of hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrik-Isham CalvadosCEDRIK-ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows the powerful winds and rains of hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrik-Isham CalvadosCEDRIK-ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows the powerful winds and rains of hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrik-Isham CalvadosCEDRIK-ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on September 19, 2017 shows the powerful winds and rains of hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Cedrik-Isham CalvadosCEDRIK-ISHAM CALVADOS/AFP/Getty Images
Debris lies on a flooded seafront after the passage of Hurricane Maria in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe island, France, September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
This handout picture obtained from a video released on September 19, 2017, on the Twitter account of Yves Thole shows a flooded street in Pointe-a-Pitre after the powerful winds and rain of hurricane Maria battered the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / TWITTER / Yves THOLE / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / TWITTER / YVES THOLE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS YVES THOLE/AFP/Getty Images
This handout picture obtained from a video released on September 19, 2017, on the twitter account of the Prefecture de Guadeloupe shows the powerful winds and rain of hurricane Maria battering the south of Basse Terre on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Hurricane Maria strengthened into a "potentially catastrophic" Category Five storm as it barrelled into eastern Caribbean islands still reeling from Irma, forcing residents to evacuate in powerful winds and lashing rain. / AFP PHOTO / Prefecture de Guadeloupe AND TWITTER / STRINGER / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / TWITTER / PREFECTURE DE GUADELOUPE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
A motorist drives on the flooded waterfront in Fort-de-France, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on September 19, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
People clear debris in Saint-Pierre, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Martinique suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A man clears debris from a street in Saint-Pierre, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Martinique suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A resident stands at her doorstep as she looks at strong waves in Saint-Pierre, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Martinique suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows strong waves along the coastline in Le Carbet, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on September 19, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A man walk next to debris on a beach in Le Carbet, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on September 19, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows damages at a restaurant in Le Carbet, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on September 19, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
A picture shows rocks swept by strong waves onto a road in Le Carbet, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017. Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on September 19, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power outages but avoided major damage. / AFP PHOTO / Lionel CHAMOISEAULIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images
This photo provided by the British Royal Navy shows the destruction after Hurricane Irma, in Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Forecasters warned Hurricane Maria would remain a Category 4 or 5 storm until it moves over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The storm's hurricane-force winds extended out about 35 miles (45 kilometers) and tropical storm-force winds out as far as 125 miles (205 kilometers). Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. (Joel Rouse/Royal Navy via AP)
LOIZA, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: An employee of hardware store board up the windows and doors of the store. September 19, 2017. Puerto Rico gets ready for the arrival of Hurricane Maria, a major category hurricane. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: A man walks in front of a boarded up restaurant in the San Juan neighborhood of Miramar. San Juan September 19, 2017. Puerto Rico gets ready for the arrival of Hurricane Maria, a major category hurricane. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: Mr. Valent�n, a local lottery vendor sits in front of the hurricane shutters of a local supermarket in San Juan September 19, 2017. Puerto Rico gets ready for the arrival of Hurricane Maria, a major category hurricane. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: Empty water shelves at local supermarket in San Juan, September 19, 2017. Puerto Rico gets ready for the arrival of Hurricane Maria, a major category hurricane. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: More than 500 residents of San Juan are been refuged at Roberto Clemente Coliseum, the biggest shelter in the island. Hurricane Irma is been expected over this night and tomorrow?s early morning. San Juan September 19, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO ? SEPTEMBER 19: Hurricane Maria's first wind gust are been expected late this night and tomorrow?s early morning. Heavy Storm surge are expected in San Juan's north shore. September 19, 2017. (Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post)
A man and his daughter flee from the rain on a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 19, 2017, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Maria. Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after battering the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, with the US National Hurricane Center warning of a "potentially catastrophic" impact. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMALHECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Damaged homes from Hurricane Maria are shown in this aerial photo over the island of Dominica, September 19, 2017. Photo taken September 19, 2017. Courtesy Nigel R. Browne/Caribbean Emergency Management Agency/Regional Security System/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
epa06213136 A handout photo made available by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on 19 September 2017 shows local residents queuing for aid, on the British Virgin Islands, 18 September 2017. Royal Marines from 40 Commando have been ensuring aid reaches people across the island before Storm Maria arrives. Hurricane Maria, upgraded to Category 5 storm, has rapidly intensified according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). EPA-EFE/LPhot Joel Rouse / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: CROWN COPYRIGHT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
epa06213140 A handout photo made available by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on 19 September 2017 shows the team of Royal Marines and staff from Social Services Relief organising aid for distribution, on the British Virgin Islands, 18 September 2017. Royal Marines from 40 Commando have been ensuring aid reaches people across the island before Storm Maria arrives. Hurricane Maria, upgraded to Category 5 storm, has rapidly intensified according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). EPA-EFE/LPhot Joel Rouse / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: CROWN COPYRIGHT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
epa06213138 A handout photo made available by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on 19 September 2017 shows 40 Commando Assault Engineers boarding up windows at Road Town Police Station in preparation for Storm Maria, on the British Virgin Islands, 18 September 2017. Royal Marines from 40 Commando have been ensuring aid reaches people across the island before Storm Maria arrives. Hurricane Maria, upgraded to Category 5 storm, has rapidly intensified according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). EPA-EFE/LPhot Joel Rouse / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: CROWN COPYRIGHT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
Crewmen brace themselves from the propeller wash of a Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey departing the aboard the USS Kearsarge as U.S. military continues to evacuate from the U.S. Virgin Islands in advance of Hurricane Maria, in the Caribbean Sea near the islands September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Photo Gallery: The storm has left widespread destruction along its path, including some areas battered earlier by the huge Hurricane Irma.

Related: [Capital Weather Gang: Tracking Maria]

President Trump on Thursday acknowledged the likelihood of severe damage to Puerto Rico, describing the U.S. territory as “totally obliterated.” The island is in “very, very, very perilous shape,” Trump told reporters in New York during a meeting with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.

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.”

William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told The Washington Post that rescue and recovery operations are poised to help the U.S. territories — and had significant resources already deployed in the area as a result of Hurricane Irma, which hit the region just days ago.

“Right now we’re in wait-and-see mode,” Long said Wednesday afternoon. “We know that St. Croix took a tremendous hit, and we know obviously Puerto Rico took the brunt of the storm. Once the weather clears and the seas die down, we’ll be in full operation.”

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, ordered a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew to remain in place at least until Saturday. Late Wednesday, President Trump declared a “major disaster” in Puerto Rico and directed additional federal funds to help in the recovery, a White House statement said.

In a tweet address to Rosselló, Trump wrote Thursday that “we are with you and the people of Puerto Rico.”

Maria was the most violent tropical cyclone to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. It had raked St. Croix hours earlier, just two weeks after that island was the only major land mass in the U.S. Virgin Islands that was spared Hurricane Irma’s wrath. Maria also produced flooding in St. Thomas, an island that Irma hit.

On the French island of Guadeloupe, officials blamed at least two deaths on Maria, and at least two people were missing after a ship went down near the tiny French island of Desirade. At least seven deaths have been reported on the devastated island of Dominica.

Del. Stacey Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in Washington, said St. Croix had been a staging ground for relief efforts after Hurricane Irma devastated other parts of her district, before Maria’s eye skimmed the edge of St. Croix on Tuesday night as a Category 5 storm with winds of 175 mph.

The damage has yet to be fully assessed, but in a sign of the possible devastation, Plaskett said the roof of the local racetrack blew into the runway of the airport, complicating relief efforts.

The last hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico was Georges in 1998. Just one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico in recorded history, in 1928.

Puerto Rico’s vulnerability to tropical cyclones has been driven home in the past two weeks as first Irma and then Maria have howled into the Caribbean. The back-to-back nature of the storms has had one minor upside: Some 3,200 federal government staffers, National Guardsmen and other emergency personnel already were in Puerto Rico when Maria approached.

A resident looks at the broken windows of an apartment in Ciudadela complex of Santurce in Puerto Rico. (Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The Washington Post/)

Late Wednesday, Trump issued a message on Twitter naming the Puerto Rican governor, adding: “We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! #PRStrong.”

The federal recovery effort, Long said, will attempt to restore power to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as quickly as possible but in a way that makes the grid less vulnerable to similar disruptions. The power grid, he said, “is a fragile system in both territories. It’s going to be a long and frustrating process to get the power grid up.”

In the San Juan district of Santurce, residents used machetes to cut branches from trees blocking the road. The sidewalks were rendered impassable by downed trees, metal roofing and power lines.

Anton Rosarios, 81, looked over what remained of the front of his wooden house, the walls of which had collapsed, exposing the interior. He said he was hoping that FEMA would show up: “They are the only ones who can help fix this neighborhood. God willing, they will be coming to help us soon.”

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People in San Juan, Puerto Rico shared videos of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath on Sept. 20. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

The home of his neighbor, Vitin Rodriguez, 55, had lost its roof, and all of his belongings had been ruined by Maria. A tree had fallen and crushed his car, and he said he had no way to check on the status of family members.

Farther down the block, a small crowd gathered at an emergency shelter, as residents checked on friends and neighbors, some of whom had ridden out the storm playing dominoes.

“It’s important to help, to give a life to people who don’t have homes because of the storm,” said Eudalia Sanata, 46, one of the four employees of the shelter. “Look, there are even a few dogs here. Dogs are part of the family, too, and no one wants to leave their family out in the rain.”

Somashekhar reported from Washington. Daniel Cassady in San Juan; Amy Gordon in Vieques, Puerto Rico; and Brian Murphy, Joel Achenbach, Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz in Washington contributed to this report.


Samantha Schmidt is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. She previously worked as a reporting fellow for the New York Times.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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