SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) –
Hurricane Maria, the second major storm to ravage the Caribbean in a month, skirted past the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday, leaving devastation in its wake that included fresh flooding on Puerto Rico two days after pummeling the U.S. island territory.
Maria, which ranked as the most powerful hurricane to strike Puerto Rico in nearly a century, has killed at least six people there and claimed 19 lives on several other Caribbean islands, according to government officials and local news media accounts.
But even as Puerto Ricans struggled without electricity to clean up and dig out from tangles of rubble, uprooted trees and fallen power lines, another potential disaster was unfolding in northwestern corner of the island, where a dam was on the verge of collapse.
The U.S. National Weather Service warned in a series of bulletins that the dam on the rain-engorged Guajataca River, was failing, causing flash flooding in the area and prompting an evacuation of communities below the reservoir by way of buses.
Roughly 70,000 people live in the area downstream from the earthen dam that was under evacuation, the island’s governor, Ricardo Rossello, said in a late-afternoon news conference.
Christina Villalba, an official for the island’s emergency management agency, said there was little doubt the dam would give way.
“It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it could be in the next few days, but it’s very likely it will be soon,” she said, adding that authorities were aiming to complete evacuations Friday night.
Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and cut a path of destruction through the center of the island on Wednesday, ripping roofs from buildings and triggering widespread flooding. Torrential downpours from the storm sent several rivers to record levels.
Officials in Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million inhabitants, confirmed six storm-related fatalities: three from landslides in Utuado, in the island’s mountainous center; two from drowning in Toa Baja, west of San Juan, and a person near San Juan who was struck by a piece of wind-blown lumber.RELATED COVERAGE