Hurricane Maria Batters Puerto Rico; Leaves Homes Damaged, Streets Flooded, Power Out

Many New Yorkers Watch Nervously As Storm Barrels Through

SAN JUAN (CBSNewYork/CBS News) — Hurricane Maria paved a path of destruction through Puerto Rico Wednesday, leaving roofs ripped off homes, flooding in streets, and power out across the island.

As CBS2’s Elise Finch reported, Maria is one of the most intense hurricanes ever to develop in the Atlantic basin. Maria made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico around 6:15 a.m. Wednesday, bringing sustained winds of 155 mph and heavy rain to the island.

Being just shy of a Category 5 when it first struck, it was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years.

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The and weakened to a Category 2 storm late Tuesday afternoon, but only after causing widespread destruction. Earlier, the storm carved a path of destruction through the Caribbean, where it killed at least nine people.

The National Hurricane Center released an 8 p.m. advisory to say that the core of dangerous Hurricane Maria is finally gradually moving away from Puerto Rico; conditions now deteriorating over eastern Dominican Republic.

By 8 p.m., the storm was about 55 miles east-northeast of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, NHC says.

Maria’s violent winds tore pieces off a building and turned them into projectiles, CBS News’ David Begnaud reported before he himself had to seek shelter in his hotel. The hotel sent all the guests down to the lobby level before evacuating them into an emergency stairwell. CBS2 has learned Begnaud is safe inside the hotel and as late as noon, the power was still on.

Carmen Gonzalez saw her roof ripped off.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “My heart is broken.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall two weeks after Irma hit and also caused damage and power outages. Upon roaring ashore, Maria brought powerful winds that bent palm trees and in some cases snapped them like twigs.

Wicked winds also sent debris flying down streets. Sheets of heavy rain blew sideways reducing visibility and flooding neighborhoods.

Cars were left looking like they were parked in the middle of a river.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the city of Catano on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, told WAPA Television that 80 percent of the homes in a hard-hit neighborhood known as Juana Matos are “destroyed.”

And in Guanavo, floodwaters rushed down the street, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported. People were clinging to each other in waist-deep water.

“We’ve never had any back to back hurricanes before,” said Yolanda Moldanado, who has been without power since Irma and is now staying in a shelter in San Juan. “I’ve passed through hurricanes, but this one is going to be very hard.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Maria Batters Puerto Rico

Eddie Nagrin and his 11-year-old daughter rode out the storm in a hotel room.

“We are trying to do the best we can to survive,” he said.

And power was out all around Puerto Rico, authorities said.

“Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” said Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico’s emergency management director. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

Even before the storm, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was crumbling and the island was in dire condition financially.

Puerto Rico is struggling to restructure a portion of its $73 billion debt, and the government has warned it is running out of money as it fights back against furloughs and other austerity measures imposed by a federal board overseeing the island’s finances.

Many feared extended power outages would further sink businesses struggling amid a recession that has lasted more than a decade.

“This is going to be a disaster,” said Jean Robert Auguste, who owns two French restaurants and sought shelter at a San Juan hotel. “We haven’t made any money this month.”

Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rossello posted on Twitter that a curfew was to go into effect at 6 p.m. local time.

His Tweet translated to English reads: “It is essential to maintain order so authorities can run properly. I therefore ordered curfew effective today 6 p.m.”

Rossello also tweeted a picture showing him coordinating with the other officials as the curfew began.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has issued a disaster declaration, which will allow Puerto Rico to get immediate financial support from Washington and assistance from the military.

“He sticks to that – that’s important, because anytime the president says it, it has power,” said U.S. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York).

Vice President Mike Pence spoke about Puerto Rico at a United Nations Security Council meeting Wednesday.

“As we gather at this historic assembly, I know all of our hearts are with the people of Puerto Rico as they face Hurricane Maria and the aftermath,” Pence said.

In East Harlem, which is home to the largest number of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many residents are worried about loved ones in Puerto Rico.

Edwin Perez was just one of many in East Harlem who was concerned about relatives in Puerto Rico – including his brother.

“I’m actually very worried because it’s him, his wife, my niece and nephew,” he said.

He finally got through to his brother on Facebook.

“He’s saying it’s real bad,” Perez said. “He can’t leave the house.”

“I got my sister Teresa,” added Marc Anthony. He said he had not been able to get in touch with his sister, and would have to check Facebook.

For Matilda Lopez, watching Maria wallop the island where she was born and raised has been rough, esecially with so many relatives still there. She shared with CBS2 a text message she received from her niece just hours before the storm hit.

“I’m very sad and worried, our family is scared,” the message read.

Now, Lopez is unable to get in touch with any of her relatives in Puerto Rico.

“It’s bad all over. It’s getting windy and it’s devastating,” Lopez said. “I just came from church, praying and that’s all we can do.”

Robert Negron has been able to reach his cousins who are in a safe place, but he worries about the damage Maria will do to the island.

“We love the island. The island is a beautiful place and every time a storm comes we all worry,” Negron said, adding that he feels helpless being in New York City. “You’re never prepared for the big one. Never. You’re in God’s hands. You just got to have faith and pray.”

“My son called me and he told me, ‘Dad, I’m just calling you cause I don’t know if this is the last time I’m going to speak to you,'” said David Molina, whose 13-year-old son is in San Juan. “They’re nervous, they’re scared. I’ve got my fingers crossed and my prayers up.”

Residents are collecting donations to send back to Puerto Rico in anticipation of the damage expected.

“The community will band together to send clothes, water. The United States ain’t gonna leave Puerto Rico dried out like that,” one resident said.

As WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said his mother’s entire family is on the island.

“They have water, equipment and supplies, but they’re scared,” Diaz said. “Again, we haven’t seen anything this forceful in many, many generations.”

Meanwhile, New York City deployed its first responders to a hurricane zone for the third time in a month.

“We want the 3 1/2 million people of Puerto Rico to know that 8 1/2 million New Yorkers will stand by them,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, tractor-trailers full of rescue boats, fuel and bottled water headed up to Stewart Air Force Base to be loaded onto a military aircraft Wednesday.

“We’re squaring away our personal items, basically just to be away from our homes and our families for two weeks – everything that we’re going to need personally,” NYPD Lt. Michael McGinness told Silverman. “And the other thing we are trying to do is get as much intelligence information about what we’re going to encounter when we get down there.”

Members of the Urban Search and Rescue task force are already in Puerto Rico. They were deployed there for Hurricane Irma.

“We actually were texting back and forth this morning,” said Special Operation Chief Harry Wedin. “They said the storm was pretty devastating.”

The 27 men and women from the police and fire departments are trained for anything they might encounter.

“Hazmats, confined space rescues, water rescues,” Wedin said.

“We’re just happy to help the people of Puerto Rico,” McGinness added.

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