Hurricane Maria clobbers Puerto Rico, plunges island into darkness

A woman with a flashlight illuminates her baby inside a shelter before the arrival of the Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2017

Hurricane Maria clobbers Puerto Rico, plunges island into darkness

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Hurricane Maria, the strongest storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, carved a path of destruction through the US territory on Wednesday, causing severe flooding and plunging the island into darkness as the storm’s death toll in the Caribbean rose to at least 10.
Maria, the second major hurricane to rage through the region this month, was left weakened by its encounter with Puerto Rico and on a course projected to pass north of the Dominican Republic, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Hours earlier, Maria pummeled St. Croix, the largest and southern-most of the US Virgin Islands, as a rare Category 5 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, causing widespread heavy damage.
Moving on to Puerto Rico ranked a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), Maria ripped roofs from buildings and turned low-lying roadways into rushing debris-laden rivers as it cut a diagonal swath across the island.
The island’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, said the only fatality immediately reported was a man struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds.
The streets of Puerto Rico’s historic Old Town in the capital, San Juan, were strewn with broken balconies, air conditioning units, shattered lamp posts, fallen power lines and dead birds. Few trees escaped unscathed. Thick branches were torn down from most and others were simply uprooted.
“It’s nothing short of a major disaster,” Rossello said in a CNN interview, adding it may take months for the island’s electricity to be completely restored. Earlier he imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the island.
The Hurricane Center reported “catastrophic flash flooding” in portions of the island, and news pictures showed whole blocks under water in areas of the capital.
“When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed,” Abner Gomez, the director of the island’s emergency management agency, was quoted as saying by El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”
Virtually the entire island was without electricity as night fell, said Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the governor.
By 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT), Maria’s center was drifting away from Puerto Rico. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and was 55 miles (90 km) off the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, the NHC said.
As is typical for hurricanes passing over hilly or mountainous terrain, Maria was markedly diminished by the time it crossed Puerto Rico, though the NHC said the storm was likely to regain major hurricane status on Thursday.
Maria was expected to skirt past the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic Wednesday night and Thursday before approaching the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday night and Friday, the NHC said. So far, it looked unlikely to threaten the US mainland.
Storm-related rainfall was expected to range from 20 to 30 inches (50 to 76 cm) on much of Puerto Rico through Friday, according to NHC.
Maria was classified a Category 5 storm when it struck the eastern Caribbean island nation of Dominica on Monday night with devastating force, killing at least seven people there, government officials.
Based on an aerial survey, about 95 percent of roofs in Dominica, one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean with a population of about 73,000, were damaged or destroyed by Maria, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. It added damage to the island could be in the billions of dollars.
Hartley Henry, principal adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that “the country is in a daze.”
Two people died in the French territory of Guadeloupe before Maria raked St. Croix.
Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, also left a trail of destruction in several Caribbean islands and Florida this month, killing at least 84 people.


Indonesia’s Mt. Sinabung blasts tower of smoke and ash into sky

Updated 6 min 19 sec ago

Indonesia’s Mt. Sinabung blasts tower of smoke and ash into sky

  • Volcano on Sumatra island has been rumbling since 2010 and saw a deadly eruption in 2016
  • Indonesia is home to about 130 active volcanoes due to its position on the ‘Ring of Fire’

MEDA, Indonesia: Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung erupted Monday, belching a massive column of ash and smoke 5,000 meters into the air and coating local communities in debris.
The volcano on Sumatra island has been rumbling since 2010 and saw a deadly eruption in 2016.
Activity had picked up in recent days, including a pair of smaller eruptions at the weekend.
There were no reports of injuries or deaths, but authorities warned of possible lava flows.
“People living nearby are advised to be on alert for the potential appearance of lava,” Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center said in a statement.
The crater’s alert status remained at the second-highest level.
No one lives inside a previously announced no-go zone around the volcano, but small communities nearby were coated in a layer of thick ash from Monday’s eruption.
Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years. After another period of inactivity it erupted once more in 2013, and has remained highly active since.
In 2016, seven people died in one of Sinabung’s eruptions, while a 2014 eruption killed 16.
In late 2018, a volcano in the strait between Java and Sumatra islands erupted, causing an underwater landslide that unleashed a tsunami which killed more than 400 people.
Indonesia is home to about 130 active volcanoes due to its position on the “Ring of Fire,” a belt of tectonic plate boundaries circling the Pacific Ocean where frequent seismic activity occurs.