Days after Hurricane Maria pounded the island of Puerto Rico, killing at least 10 people, authorities are starting to see firsthand the scope of devastation that left the US territory off the grid.
Without power and communications in much of the island, millions of people, including city leaders and first responders, have been cut off from the world since Maria hit Wednesday.
Authorities flew over the island Saturday, and were stunned by what they saw. No cellphones, water or power. Roads completely washed away and others blocked by debris, isolating residents.
“It was devastating to see all that kind of debris in all areas, in all towns of the island,” Jenniffer González, the island’s non-voting representative in Congress told CNN.
“We never expected to have a lot of debris in so many areas. A lot of roads are closed, older ones are just gone,” she added.
At least 10 people have been confirmed killed by the storm, according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s office.
Roselló met with more than 50 mayors and representatives from across Puerto Rico on Saturday. Some described the conditions in their communities as “apocalyptic” and said there have been incidents of looting in both homes and stores.
“We know a little more today than we did yesterday,” Rossello said. “This is going to be a long road.”
A dam is in danger of collapsing, adding to the crisis.
Army, more federal aid coming
US President Donald Trump has pledged federal help for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration said 4,000 members of the US Army Reserves have been deployed to the island to help with Hurricane Maria recovery.
“Federal partners are aggressively working to meet and overcome challenges to opening ports and restoring power to bring additional life-saving commodities and personnel into disaster-affected areas,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
Several flights and sea vessels with meals, water and generators have been arriving or are headed to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands affected, the agency said.
Puerto Ricans living without water, communication
Residents also have limited access to cell signal, causing panic among families at home and abroad who have been unable to contact their loved ones.
“I know many people who are living in the States are worried about not hearing from their families,” González said. “Don’t get nervous, we just have problems with communications lines.”
More than 95% of the wireless cell sites are currently out of service, the island’s Federal Communications Commission said Saturday.
East of Maunabo, in Humacao, people stop their cars along the side of the road near a cell tower on a hill. It’s the only access to cellphone service for miles.
“We’re trying to communicate to our families in the US,” said Jose Flores, who traveled 17 miles to reach the tower. “I just got connected to my daughter in Florida, and she will let the rest of the family know I’m fine.”
On the northwest part of the island, authorities had to physically go to thousands of residents to warn them of a potential dam collapse near the Guajataca River.
“We don’t know how much longer it will hold,” he said. “The structure has been significantly compromised.”
Maria marching north
The National Hurricane Center says the storm could impact the US East Coast in the coming days.
“Interests along the coast of the Carolinas and the Mid-Atlantic should monitor the progress of Maria.” the center said in an advisory.
The Category 2 storm was carrying maximum sustained winds of 110 mph and was 290 miles east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. It was moving at 9 mph (15 kph), the center said.
As the storm slowly moves away from the Bahamas into the Atlantic, forecasters say southeastern US beaches will likely see “dangerous surf and rip currents” over the next several days.
Maria is expected to stay offshore but “the uncertainty is how close to the North Carolina coast Maria’s turn will occur,” the center said.
The storm hit Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos, a British overseas territory.