Hurricane Maria's damage in Puerto Rico is still unknown Thursday afternoon, but President Donald Trump said the Category 4 storm obliterated the Caribbean island. which was already grappling with a debt crisis. He approved a federal disaster declaration. His third after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
Hurricane Maria caused at least 10 deaths across the Caribbean, including seven in the hard-hit island of Dominica and two in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico’s governor told CNN one man died after being hit by flying debris.
Lives were still at risk Thursday, as the rain prompted landslides and floods. Rescue workers and volunteers were looking through the damage of the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than eight decades.
"This is going to be a historic event," Abner Gomez, the island’s emergency management director, said.
The storm's 155 mph winds finished knocking down some of the power lines and trees that Hurricane Irma left standing Sept. 6. Before the two storms, Puerto Rico’s electric grid was already crumbling amid lack of maintenance and a dwindling staff.
Officials expect the entire island to struggle with restoring electricity for four to six months.
Authorities of dozens of municipalities haven't been able to communicate regularly with authorities in San Juan, the largest city of the unincorporated territory. Despite the stress of the country's debt crisis, not every one was losing hope.
Edwin Rosario, a 79-year-old retired government worker, said an economic crisis that has sparked an exodus of nearly half a million Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland will only make the island’s recovery harder.
"Only us old people are left," Rosario said as he scraped a street gutter in front of his house free of debris. "A lot of young people have already gone ... If we don’t unite, we’re not going to bounce back."
The storm also blew out windows at some hospitals, police stations and stores. Law enforcement issued a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Outside of an apartment building, Adrian Pacheco, 40, a tourism company operator, said he spent eight hours in a stairwell huddled with 100 other residents when the hurricane ripped the storm shutters off his building.
"I think people didn’t expect the storm to reach the point that it did," he said.
The sound of chain saws and small bulldozers filled the post-storm silence that had spread across San Juan. Firefighters removed trees and lifted toppled light posts. Some neighbors pitched in to help clear the smaller branches, including Shawn Zimmerman, a 27-year-old student from Lewistown, Pennsylvania who moved to Puerto Rico nearly two years ago.
"The storm didn’t bother me," he said. "It’s the devastation. I get goosebumps. It’s going to take us a long time."
Maria turned some streets into roaring rivers and destroyed hundreds of homes across, including 80 percent of houses in a small fishing community near the San Juan Bay, which unleashed a storm surge of more than 4 feet.
"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," said Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano.
Local 10 News' Jennifer Correa and Andrea Torres contributed to this report.