How Much Damage Did Hurricane Maria Cause In Puerto Rico? It Could Take Years To Recover
With sustained wind speeds of roughly 155 mph, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on early Wednesday morning. According to The Washington Post, it was the first Category 4 hurricane to strike Puerto Rico since 1932, and within hours, the island was pummeled by rain at up to 7 inches per hour. By early estimations, the damage Hurricane Maria wrought on Puerto Rico is reportedly massive.
As of now, at least one person — a man who was hit by flying debris, according to the BBC — has been confirmed dead, but Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló shared that the total number of casualties is still unclear.
"We still don't have a lot of information," Rosselló told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "We're virtually disconnected in terms of communications with the southeast part of the island."
Maria was so strong that it knocked out 100 percent of Puerto Rico's electricity. According to Rosselló, none of the 3.5 million people on the island have power. In fact, Rosselló indicated that the power might be out for months.
"It depends on the damage to the infrastructure," Rosselló told Cooper. "I'm afraid it's probably going to be severe. If it is... we're looking at months as opposed to weeks or days."
Rosselló also explained to Cooper that it isn't the power stations themselves but rather the distribution system that has sustained severe damage. Moreover, the storm damaged cell towers, radar, and weather stations, making it even more difficult for officials to assess the devastation, especially in more remote parts of the island.
The damage Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico extended beyond power outages. The hurricane unleashed some potentially lethal flash floods on some parts of the island, and San Juan residents found debris as well as fallen trees and power lines in their streets after the storm had passed. The BBC's Will Grant wrote that he saw at least one collapsed building near San Juan's waterfront, in addition to fallen balconies and detached roofs. In order to ensure that people are not injured by the power lines or widespread debris, Rosselló has implemented a curfew between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. that will be in effect until Saturday.
In the aftermath of the storm, thousands of people have sought refuge in the 500 emergency shelters set up across Puerto Rico, or with friends and family. However, Rosselló is concerned that not all the shelters are storm-worthy, and added that the problem of mobility was compounded by the roads being "practically undrivable," The New York Times reported.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was among the thousands of people who sought shelter inside the San Juan Sports Coliseum during the storm. Her primary concerns were being able to get sufficient aid to people who most needed it and helping her city and the island recover after the hurricane. She told NBC Nightly News' Gadi Schwartz:
I'm 54 years old; I've never seen devastation like this one. The human spirit is going to have to rise up real high and I'm sure we have the strength to do it but we have to find it in ourselves. ... The Puerto Rico and the San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there, so we have to reconstruct, rebuild, reinvent, and we have to be resilient.
As Rosselló has since pointed out, Puerto Rico is now embarking on an extensive recovery process. Indeed, although Maria had moved off the island by Wednesday afternoon, Puerto Rico was still experiencing devastating flash floods early Thursday — to the point that rivers were flowing over bridges, according to Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the House of Representatives.
"This is total devastation," a spokesman for Rosselló told CNN. "Puerto Rico, in terms of the infrastructure, will not be the same. ... This is something of historic proportions."
The BBC reported that Donald Trump has not yet declared Puerto Rico a disaster area as Rosselló requested. Federal emergency aid, however, has been made available to both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.