Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico reels, Turks and Caicos hit

Updated 10:43 AM EDT, Sat September 23, 2017
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Story highlights

People living near Puerto Rican dam being evacuated

Dangerous storm surge expected in Turks and Caicos and parts of Bahamas

(CNN) —  

Puerto Rico grappled with damages and deaths caused by Hurricane Maria on Friday as the storm hurtled across the Caribbean and slapped the Turks and Caicos Islands.

People in the northwest part of the island were urged to evacuate in the afternoon after a dam on the Guajataca River failed, according to a tweet from the National Weather Service.

The storm hit Puerto Rico two days ago and knocked out power in the US commonwealth of more than 3 million people, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said. And it could be months before the electricity returns.

A gradual weakening of Maria is forecast over the next two days, but the Category 3 hurricane still socked the Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory of more than 52,000 people.

Maria’s core left the Turks and Caicos in a north-northwestward direction and was gradually moving away from the Bahamas, the center said in its 8 p.m. advisory.

A dangerous storm surge and large waves will raise water levels by as much as 9 to 12 feet above normal tide in the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas, the center said.

More rain and flash flooding in Puerto Rico

The giant storm’s death toll continues to mount.

At least 15 people are confirmed dead on Dominica, and dozens more remain missing. One person died in the US Virgin Islands, probably from drowning, authorities said.

At least six people were killed in Puerto Rico, said Héctor M. Pesquera, the island’s public safety director.

Earlier, Puerto Rico’s governor told CNN’s “New Day” that 13 people had died in the storm. The figure was based on reports from mayors on the island, but law enforcement hasn’t confirmed that total, the government said.

“Flash flooding continues in portions of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic due to persistent heavy rainfall from Maria’s trailing rain bands,” the hurricane center said.

The rain could spur “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.”

Hurricane Maria leaves a house destroyed in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
John Galleymore
Hurricane Maria leaves a house destroyed in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Maria is producing winds of near 125 mph (more than 200 kilometers per hour) with higher gusts. Moving at 9 mph (15 kilometers per hour), it was 375 miles (600 kilometers) east-southeast of Nassau, Bahamas.

The government of the Bahamas changed the hurricane warning for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas to a tropical storm warning, the weather service said. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the central Bahamas.

Heavy rainfall is expected through Saturday. In Turks and Caicos, 8 to 16 inches are predicted, with 20 inches in some places, and in Puerto Rico, an additional 3 to 6 inches is likely, with isolated maximum storm totals at 40 inches.

Heavy rains are expected in parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.

US Southeast coast to begin feeling impact

Maria will move closer to the US East Coast and Bermuda by the middle of next week, “but it is too soon to determine, what, if any direct impacts there might be in these areas,” the hurricane center said.

Swells from the storm are expected to begin reaching the US Southeast coast, the center said.

“These swells are likely to cause dangerous surf and life-threatening rip currents along the coast for the next several days, even with Maria forecast to remain well offshore over the western Atlantic Ocean,” it said.