First Category 4 Hurricane in 80 Years Makes Landfall in Puerto Rico

Even before landfall, more than 40 percent of the island was is in the dark and flooding had already begun amid lashing winds.

Updated throughout at 8:45 a.m. EDT, 20 September 2017

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Just as dawn broke over the island, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a category 4 storm with sustained winds of 155 miles an hour. Through the long night, even as news came in of devastation in little Dominica and concerns grew about the fate of St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, more than 40 percent of this island was already in the dark.

Unlike Irma, which struck a glancing blow earlier this month, Hurricane María is barreling right through the middle of Puerto Rico, and authorities predicted it is only a matter of time before the whole island loses power and water completely. Governor Ricardo Roselló called it "the worst storm of the last century." It has been at least 80 years since one this powerful made landfall here.

As the eye of the storm passed within 10 miles of San Juan, the winds were still screaming at 150 miles an hour and the sea level was rising quickly. It seemed nobody on the island had power unless they owned a generator. Communications starteed to cut out, and many people, when reached, were in tears, unable to get in touch with friends of family.

That this apocalyptic weather is due to last five hours more only heightened tensions.

Already at 2:00 am Wednesday, the scene on the streets was frightening. Many metropolitan areas were deserted and the only sound was the fury of the winds of Maria. Some rural areas already were flooding.

"Hurricane's outer bands keep coming in and are damaging our main lines," said Ricardo Ramos Rodríguez, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) as he addressed the power outage via Twitter.

PREPA is the only power company on Puerto Rico, supplying 99 percent of the electricity consumed on the island.

Governor Rosselló had anticipated the vulnerability of the power lines. During his last message before the hurricane, he warned that the island will be in total blackout and without communications for a period of three to four days. Those predictions quickly began to come trure.

It will be "more dangerous than Hugo and Georges," Rosselló said, referring to the two deadly hurricanes that crushed the island in the past.

Yet among some residents, until the last minute skepticism remained about the power of the storm and the likely extent of the damage.

"This has to be a joke. There is no way we are that behind on technology," Fernando Méndez told The Daily Beast in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, a sports arena here in San Juan that has been converted to a shelter. Méndez is one of 7,144 people and 288 pets given refuge so far in 146 of 500 shelters.

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Sitting beside Méndez was Marta Gómez, a 78-year old who remembered Hurricane Hugo, a storm which hit Puerto Rico as a category 3 and killed five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Georges, a category 3 hurricane that caused more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.

Monster Hurricane María is predicted to cause greater damage because heavy rain will fall for two days straight, causing catastrophic flooding according to the the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

"Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months," the hurricane center said.

"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus—our only focus right now—should be to make sure we save lives," Rosselló told CNN.

"I am personally without electricity since last night," San Juan resident Monica Morales said by telephone. "Some people had their power out since before [Irma] passed, and they still haven't had it restored."

After President Trump’s emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as Hurricane Maria approached both the U.S. territories.

Late on Monday, the storm had no mercy into Dominica, as Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said it caused a “mind-boggling” destruction. Now Puerto Rico is experiencing much the same, as Aixa Vasquez, reporting for WAPA, discovered when the wind knocked her down in a gas station where she thought she'd have a little shelter.