SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - Hurricane Maria rampaged across Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in nearly 90 years, bringing widespread flooding and knocking out power across the island after killing at least nine people in the Caribbean.
Maria, the second major hurricane to roar through the region this month, was carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kph), when it landed near Yabucoa, on the southeast of the island of 3.4 million people.
It ripped the roofs off some buildings and turned low-lying streets into rushing debris-laden rivers.
The streets of historic Old Town in the capital, San Juan, were strewn with broken balconies, air conditioning units, shattered lamp posts, downed power lines and dead birds. Few trees escaped unscathed: thick branches were torn down from most and others were simply uprooted.
“The danger continues - there are flood warnings for the whole of Puerto Rico,” Governor Ricardo Rossello warned residents on Twitter as the storm headed offshore. “Stay in safe places.”
News pictures showed whole blocks flooded in areas of the capital such as the Hato Rey neighborhood.
“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, known by its Spanish language acronym AEMEAD, was quoted as saying by El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”
Electricity was believed to be out across the island, said Pedro Cerame, a spokesman for the governor. Authorities had not yet been able to assess the extent of the damage, he said.
Thousands of people had sought safety in shelters.