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Maria whacks Puerto Rico

One of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico pummeled the island Wednesday, tearing off roofs and sending doors flying from hinges as officials warned Hurricane Maria would decimate the power company's crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.

Maria, which has killed at least nine in the Caribbean, made landfall early Wednesday in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 250 km/h, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.

People calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island's southern region. Meanwhile, widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan, with water running down one apartment's interior staircase.

"This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history."

Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance. Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building's second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM. 

As Maria approached, U.S. President Donald Trump offered his support via Twitter: "Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!"

More than 4,400 people were in shelters by late Tuesday, along with 105 pets, Rossello said.

The storm's centre passed near or over St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to insist that people remain alert. St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain's St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds, Mapp said.

Maria killed two people in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, officials said.

About 40 per cent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.



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