Puerto Rico remained in the throes of chaos and devastation Thursday as the remnants of Hurricane Maria continued to dump rain on the island — up to three feet in some areas.
Flash flood warnings persisted, according to the National Hurricane Center, with “catastrophic” flooding “especially in areas of mountainous terrain.”
The strikingly powerful storm had rendered an estimated 3.4 million people without power, and with the territory’s energy grid all but destroyed, Governor Ricardo Rosselló predicted a long period of recovery. Anxious relatives in the mainland United States and elsewhere took to social media in an effort to find news of their loved ones.
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.
“Irma gave us a break, but Maria destroyed us,” Edwin Serrano, a construction worker in Old San Juan, said.
The storm churned off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm on Thursday, and the National Hurricane Center repeated hurricane warnings for late Thursday and early Friday morning for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.
Here’s the latest:
• 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.
• There is significant concern about the expected “life-threatening” storm surge of nine to 12 feet in the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas, according to Michael Brennan of the National Hurricane Center.
• 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.
• Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN late Wednesday that officials knew of only one fatality in Puerto Rico.
• The United States Coast Guard reported the death of a man aboard a capsized vessel near Vieques, Puerto Rico. A woman and two children were rescued from the boat by a British Royal Navy helicopter crew, it added.
• President Trump said Thursday that he would visit Puerto Rico, but gave no details on the timing of the trip.
• 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. Rosselló had previously set a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew effective until Saturday.
Restoring power is a priority in Puerto Rico.
Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of the House of Representatives, told CNN on Thursday that the island appeared to have been “devastated,” with power lines lying on the ground and rivers flowing over bridges.
Ms. González-Colón, 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.
Complicating matters, more than 95 percent of the island’s wireless cell sites were out of service, said Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Ricardo Ramos, the chief executive of the government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN on Thursday that the island’s power infrastructure had been basically “destroyed.”
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.
“It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children,” 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.
“It’s total destruction,” said Angie Mok, a property manager. “This will be a renaissance.”
Ms. Mok’s 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 González, 58, a marketing manager for a real estate company, also ventured out on Thursday. “The country is paralyzed — it’s like a war zone,” Ms. González wrote in Spanish in a text message. “This has been devastating. The whole of Condado is full of obstacles.”
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 — it was her cousin in Florida checking in. “I haven’t heard anything from anyone,” she said.
Family members on the mainland are ‘desperately seeking information.’
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 island’s communications infrastructure.
“We’re all anxious, we’re all desperately seeking information and we’re all on call to help Puerto Rico and give it whatever it needs,” 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 father’s 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 “impotence,” said Eliezer Vélez, 44, of Atlanta.
Mr. Vélez, 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.
“We’re praying for them and hoping for the best,” Mr. Vélez said. “It’s really sad that you’re here, but your mind and your heart are on the island. We are here, but we belong there. I cannot describe the frustration that I’m not there.”
Puerto Rico is in ‘perilous shape,’ Trump says.
“Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated,” President Trump said during a meeting with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine at the United Nations in New York on Thursday.
“Their electrical grid is destroyed,” Mr. Trump added. “It wasn’t in good shape to start off with. But their electrical grid is totally destroyed. And so many other things.”
Mr. Trump has declared Puerto Rico a disaster area, and said he was consulting with Governor Rosselló and federal officials about the recovery effort. “We are going to start it with great gusto,” he said. “But it’s in very, very, very perilous shape. Very sad what happened to Puerto Rico.”
Despite the challenges his island faces, Governor Rosselló said on Twitter that “we will come out of this stronger than ever.”
In an interview with WAPA radio on Thursday, Mr. Rosselló said that reopening the island’s ports was a priority as that would allow for shipments of aid, including generators, food, cots, and 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, “All you have to do is take a look at a picture. They are flattened. Areas around there have been flattened.”