SAN JUAN, 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 155 mph winds, 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.
Local 10 News reporter Andrew Perez was riding out the storm in his San Juan hotel room as the winds whipped through the U.S. territory.
"Right now, you can't even see the building right across from us," Perez said in a telephone interview during the storm.
Perez said the rain was intense and debris was flying through the air.
"Right now, we are seeing a whole lot of wind," Perez said.
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with people seeking shelter inside stairwells, bathrooms and walk-in closets.
As Maria slowly crossed the island, it toppled cell phone towers, snapped trees and unleashed heavy flooding, dumping 20 inches of rain so far across Puerto Rico.
El Nuevo Dia newspaper reported that an emergency medical station in the north coastal town of Arecibo lost its roof, and communication was severed with several emergency management stations.
One hospital and one police station reported broken windows. About 90 percent of customers were without power and one tree fell on an ambulance.