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Puerto Rico Officials Assess Maria's Damage as Humanitarian Crisis Grows

  • VOA News

Men stand at the roof of a house submerged by floodwaters close to the Guajataca Dam after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guajataca, Puerto Rico, Sept. 23, 2017.

Puerto Rico's governor met Saturday with mayors from around the U.S. island territory ravaged this week by Hurricane Maria and discussed urgent needs of their communities, some of which are still threatened by a failing dam.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said Saturday on Twitter that he had seen the damage to the Guajataca Dam, which was overwhelmed by floodwaters after Maria's onslaught. He tweeted, "We reinforce our request that people leave the area as soon as possible."

Tens of thousands of people were evacuating from the river valley below the dam in the island's northwest, urged to do so by the National Weather Service office in San Juan:

"Stay away or be swept away," the weather service added.

Meanwhile, the island was without power, except for generators, and phone service was spotty, as officials struggled to provide food and water to those affected by the worst storm to hit the island of 3.4 million in nearly a century.

Jose Sanchez Gonzalez, the mayor of Manati, a north coastal town, said his community needed basic supplies such as water, ice and gas immediately. He said the local hospital was at capacity.

People rest outside a damaged house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.
People rest outside a damaged house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.

Other officials said the lack of communications and services meant they still had yet to make contact with more than half the towns on the devastated island.

Rossello said Friday that authorities already had rescued nearly 700 people from the flooding. The death toll was still unclear; earlier reports had it at 13, but the governor said communications problems across the island were hampering efforts to clarify the number.

In the latest report, there were six confirmed deaths, with that number expected to rise as communities re-established contact with one another.

Homes lay scattered after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Roseau, the capital of the island of Dominica, Sept. 23, 2017.
Homes lay scattered after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Roseau, the capital of the island of Dominica, Sept. 23, 2017.

In addition to Puerto Rico, the storm lashed other Caribbean islands. Fourteen people were reported dead on Dominica, which has a population of about 71,000. Three deaths were reported in Haiti, two deaths in the French territory of Guadeloupe and one in the Dominican Republic.

On Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was still a Category 3 storm, but its winds had decreased to 185 kph (115 mph). The storm was not expected to make landfall along the U.S. East Coast, but the system was causing dangerous surf and rip currents along the southeastern coast.

A broken traffic light, a street sign and branches lie on the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.
A broken traffic light, a street sign and branches lie on the street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.

The center said a "gradual weakening should begin on Sunday."

Forecasters said storm conditions should subside Saturday over portions of the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.

The U.S. hurricane center said tropical storm conditions were expected in portions of the central Bahamas on Saturday.

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