Puerto Ricans were confronted Thursday with their first clear view of the crushing devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria â splintered homes, crumbled balconies, uprooted trees and floodwaters coursing through streets.
The storm cut a path through the island on Wednesday and 100 percent of the territory remained without power. Officials predicted that it could take months to restore electricity as rescue brigades ventured out to assess the toll of death and injury.
Puerto Rico faces numerous obstacles as it begins to emerge from the storm: the weight of an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis; a recovery process begun after Irma, which killed at least three people and left nearly 70 percent of households without power; the difficulty of getting to an island far from the mainland; and the strain on relief efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other groups already spread thin in the wake of several recent storms.
âIrma gave us a break, but Maria destroyed us,â Edwin Serrano, a construction worker in Old San Juan, said.
Maria had entered Puerto Ricoâs southeast side on Wednesday with category 4 winds of 155 miles per hour, and continued its furious roll northward, bringing pounding rains and heavy winds to the Dominican Republic. Officials cautioned that it could deliver dangerous storm surges to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, which were already reeling from the effects of Hurricane Irma.
Most predictions suggested that Maria would veer north and spare the mainland United States. But officials said the East Coast was still not out of danger and even absent the stormâs main fury, coastal areas could still feel its effects this weekend with heavy rains and dangerous gales.
Hereâs the latest:
â¢ Maria passed close to the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday as a Category 3 storm. Hurricane warnings were in effect for parts of that country as well as the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.
â¢ Flood warnings covered the entirety of Puerto Rico on Thursday. Forecasters say Puerto Rico will see about two feet of rain by Friday, with as much as 35 inches in places. Storm surges were expected to raise water levels by as much as six feet in the Dominican Republic.
â¢ There is significant concern about the expected âlife-threateningâ storm surge of nine to 12 feet in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas, according to Michael Brennan of the National Hurricane Center.
â¢ The death toll from Hurricane Maria has risen to at least 15 on the small Caribbean island of Dominica, according to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. Two people were also killed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, officials said.
â¢ Gov. Ricardo RossellÃ³ told CNN late Wednesday that officials knew of only one fatality in Puerto Rico.
â¢ President Trump said Thursday that he would visit Puerto Rico, but gave no details on the timing of the trip.
â¢ In the United States Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced a 24-hour curfew for four islands until further notice. In Puerto Rico, Gov. RossellÃ³ had previously set a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew effective until Saturday.
Restoring power is a priority in Puerto Rico.
Jenniffer GonzÃ¡lez-ColÃ³n, Puerto Ricoâs nonvoting member of the House of Representatives, told CNN on Thursday that the island appeared to have been âdevastated,â with power lines lying on the ground and rivers flowing over bridges.
Ms. GonzÃ¡lez-ColÃ³n, who spent much of the hurricane in a closet, said restoring power was crucial, but added that the governor had estimated that it could take a month or more to get electricity back for the whole island. She suggested that without electricity, many of the pumps that supplied residents with running water would not be functioning.
A Category 4 storm had not made landfall on Puerto Rico since 1932. Smaller towns and more rural areas, many full of wooden houses with zinc roofs, were difficult to reach after the storm, but widespread damage was reported. Mayor FÃ©lix Delgado of CataÃ±o, on the northern coast, told a San Juan radio station that the storm had destroyed 80 percent of the homes in the Juana Matos neighborhood, which had been evacuated.
Ricardo Ramos, the chief executive of the government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN on Thursday that the islandâs power infrastructure had been basically âdestroyed.â
Mr. Ramos said that residents would need to adjust to a new way of life, changing how they cooked and how they cooled off. He said that adjustments would be particularly difficult for a younger generation that had grown up playing with electronic devices and taking power for granted.
âItâs a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children,â he said.
A seaside area is smashed by the storm.
Residents and business owners in the Condado area of San Juan began to trickle into the streets on Thursday to assess the havoc. Joggers ran past what resembled a beachside battlefield. Bikers pedaled slowly, taking in the overwhelming damage.
Condado, the tourist district of the island which has seen a reawakening of sorts with the opening of new hotels and restaurant chains over the last couple of years, was ravaged. Windows were blown out in the apartment buildings and hotels that line the promenade. A restaurant lost its roof. Parque del Indio, a popular seaside park for skaters and joggers, was blanketed with sand and water.
âItâs total destruction,â said Angie Mok, a property manager. âThis will be a renaissance.â
Ms. Mokâs fourth-floor seaside apartment had been destroyed. Her apartment had no shutters, and the wind rattled her belongings, while ankle-high water soaked the floors.
Carmen GonzÃ¡lez, 58, a marketing manager for a real estate company, also ventured out on Thursday. âThe country is paralyzed â itâs like a war zone,â Ms. GonzÃ¡lez wrote in Spanish in a text message. âThis has been devastating. The whole of Condado is full of obstacles.â
In Old San Juan, which like most of the island was without reliable cell service, people were thirsty for information. At Plaza de Armas, residents sat on benches and stoops to share what information they had. Those with radios were tuning in to the only station broadcasting in the entire island.
Cristina Cardalda, 55, had just gotten her first phone call since Maria hit â it was her cousin in Florida checking in. âI havenât heard anything from anyone,â she said.
Family members on the mainland are âdesperately seeking information.â
For Puerto Ricans living on the United States mainland, the tragic news coming from the island has been magnified by the fact that many of them have been unable to get in touch with friends and relatives, given the sharp blow that Hurricane Maria dealt to the islandâs communications infrastructure.
âWeâre all anxious, weâre all desperately seeking information and weâre all on call to help Puerto Rico and give it whatever it needs,â said David Galarza Santa, 48, a Brooklyn resident who said he has been unable to reach his family in the municipality of Florida, west of San Juan, since noon Wednesday.
But Mr. Galarza was optimistic that his family there, including his father and two older sisters, were doing well, in part because they had all hunkered down at his fatherâs sturdy cement house. He also noted that Puerto Ricans were old hands when it came to surviving devastating storms.
More than five million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland, more than the population of the island itself, and the worry and stress were widely shared Thursday among those watching from afar. It was a feeling of âimpotence,â said Eliezer VÃ©lez, 44, of Atlanta.
Mr. VÃ©lez, who works for the Atlanta-based Latin American Association, said that he was hoping to get in touch with his mother, two brothers and a number of uncles and cousins. He said a sister who lives on the island was able to send him a message through WhatsApp on Thursday morning; she relayed that everyone was O.K.
âWeâre praying for them and hoping for the best,â Mr. VÃ©lez said. âItâs really sad that youâre here, but your mind and your heart are on the island. We are here, but we belong there. I cannot describe the frustration that Iâm not there.â
Puerto Rico is in âperilous shape,â Trump says.
âPuerto Rico was absolutely obliterated,â President Trump said during a meeting with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the United Nations in New York on Thursday.
âTheir electrical grid is destroyed,â Mr. Trump added. âIt wasnât in good shape to start off with. But their electrical grid is totally destroyed. And so many other things.â
Mr. Trump has declared Puerto Rico a disaster area, and said he was consulting with Governor RossellÃ³ and federal officials about the recovery effort. âWe are going to start it with great gusto,â he said. âBut itâs in very, very, very perilous shape. Very sad what happened to Puerto Rico.â
Despite the challenges his island faces, Governor RossellÃ³ said on Twitter that âwe will come out of this stronger than ever.â
In an interview with WAPA radio on Thursday, Mr. RossellÃ³ said reopening the islandâs ports was a priority as that would allow for shipments of aid, including generators, food, cots, first aid materials.
The White House has also declared the United States Virgin Islands a disaster area, to make federal funding available for residents of St. Croix.
On the damage in the Virgin Islands, Mr. Trump said, âAll you have to do is take a look at a picture. They are flattened. Areas around there have been flattened.â