Dam failure feared in Puerto Rico, thousands evacuated


Puerto Rico's economy was already fragile before Hurricane Maria barreled into the island, but the strongest storm to hit the USA territory of Puerto Rico in almost 90 years could inflict heavy damage on the island's health.

Forecasters say Hurricane Maria is causing risky surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the US after the storm devastated Puerto Rico. "And we need all the help we can get", said Ortiz as she stood in line for water. Hotels warned that guests might have to leave soon without fresh supplies of diesel to keep generators operating.

Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, a utility industry group that is sending fix crews into the Caribbean, refused to speculate on how long it would take to restore power in Puerto Rico.

The operators of the dam reported that the failure was causing flash-flooding downstream, the weather service said.

Ortiz said that while no patients were suffering at the moment, the nursing home could face dire conditions eventually, especially if the generator went out or she couldn't get more fuel. He said Crowley was also working with the local authorities to resume operations, as well as with Hacienda (Departamento de Hacienda de Puerto Rico) to facilitate the efficient and timely release of food and aid cargo.

Disaster modeler Enki Research estimates damage to the island at $30 billion, with $20 billion in direct physical damage and $10 billion in economic impact.

"The fissure has become a significant rupture", Rossello said separately at a news conference on Saturday.

It holds back a man-made lake covering about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers).

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Ramos lived on the island until 1991 when he left for college.

Christina Villalba, an official for the island's emergency management agency, said there is urgency to evacuate the residents to safer ground to prevent casualties. If everyone leaves, what are we going to do?

"The priority right now is power, especially to hospitals to take care of the people that have injuries and people that are in the hospitals right now", Ramos said.

"This is going to be a long and frustrating process for everybody. There is tremendous damage on the island", William Booher, director of public affairs for FEMA, told the Associated Press. "I don't have any more details", Gov. Ricardo Rossello said from the capital, San Juan.

"She described she came outside and she said like it looked like a dump truck just dumped a whole trash in front of her house". The territory's $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. The island has spent most of the last ten years in recession. At San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, the island's main air travel hub, flights in and out were extremely limited.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had more than 120 responders on the islands. Their work included providing temporary power, temporary roofing, infrastructure assessments and debris removal.

Because of Maria, at least 31 lives in all have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn't think the power would be turned back on until Christmas. Haiti reported three deaths; Guadeloupe, two; and the Dominican Republic, one. Houston, Miami, Orlando and other airports across the southeastern US have been shuttered as a result of extreme weather causing thousands of flight cancellations and forcing airlines to adapt amidst the cascading disruption.