Hurricane Maria

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Hurricane Maria
Category 5 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
Maria 2017-09-19 2015Z.png
Hurricane Maria near peak intensity northwest of Dominica on September 19
Formed September 16, 2017
Dissipated October 3, 2017
(Extratropical after September 30)
Highest winds 1-minute sustained: 175 mph (280 km/h)
Lowest pressure 908 mbar (hPa); 26.81 inHg
Fatalities 68 direct, 26 indirect (as of October 17)
573 reported (unofficial)
Damage > $51.2 billion (2017 USD)
(Unofficially fifth-costliest on record; costliest in Puerto Rican history)
Areas affected Lesser Antilles (especially Dominica, Guadeloupe, and the U.S. Virgin Islands), Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks and Caicos Islands, The Bahamas, Southeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic States, Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Spain
Part of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica, and caused catastrophic damage and a major humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. The tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, Maria was the thirteenth named storm, seventh consecutive hurricane, fourth major hurricane, and the second Category 5 hurricane of the unusually active 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. At its peak, the hurricane caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across the northeastern Caribbean, compounding recovery efforts in the areas of the Leeward Islands already struck by Hurricane Irma just two weeks prior.

Originating from a tropical wave, Maria became a tropical storm on September 16, east of the Lesser Antilles. Remarkably favorable environmental conditions enabled the storm to undergo explosive intensification as it approached the Lesser Antilles. Maria reached Category 5 strength on September 18 as it made landfall on Dominica, producing extreme winds across the entire island. Afterwards, Maria reached its peak intensity over the eastern Caribbean with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (280 km/h) and a pressure of 908 mbar (hPa; 26.81 inHg), making it the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record. Weakening slightly, but retaining its ferocious winds, Maria struck Puerto Rico as a high-end Category 4 hurricane on September 20. Interaction with land weakened the storm, though it regained some strength as it moved northeast of the Bahamas. Moving slowly to the north, Maria gradually degraded and weakened to a tropical storm on September 28. Embedded in the westerlies, Maria accelerated toward the east and later east-northeast over the open Atlantic, becoming extratropical on September 30 and dissipating by October 3.

As of October 10, at least 93 people are confirmed to have been killed by the hurricane: 48 in Puerto Rico, 30 in Dominica, 5 in the Dominican Republic, 4 in the contiguous United States, 3 in Haiti, 2 in Guadeloupe, and 1 in the United States Virgin Islands. Hundreds of others, mostly in Dominica and Puerto Rico, are still missing. Maria wrought catastrophic damage to the entirety of Dominica, which suffered an island-wide communication blackout. Much of the housing stock and infrastructure were left beyond repair, while the island's lush vegetation had been practically eradicated. The islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique endured widespread flooding, damaged roofs and uprooted trees. Puerto Rico suffered catastrophic damage, including destruction of its previously damaged electrical grid. For weeks in Maria's wake, most of the island's population suffered from flooding and lack of resources, compounded by the slow relief process. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated at between $15.9 and $95 billion (2017 USD), mostly in Puerto Rico, making Maria's cost comparable to that of previous Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.[1][2][3][4]

Meteorological history

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) began monitoring two tropical waves on September 13.[5] The easternmost wave quickly spun up into what would become Hurricane Lee, while the western one continued moving generally westward. With generally favorable conditions in the disturbance's path, development into a tropical cyclone seemed likely.[6] During those two days the disturbance became better organized,[7] and by September 16, convective banding became established around a poorly organized circulation. As the system was an imminent threat to land despite the center not being well-defined, the NHC initiated advisories on it as "Potential Tropical Cyclone Fifteen" at 15:00 UTC, in accordance with a policy change enacted at the start of the season.[8][9] A mid-level ridge anchored north of the disturbance steered it generally west-northwest into a region highly favorable for further development. Sea surface temperatures of 84 °F (29 °C), low wind shear, and ample moisture were anticipated to foster strengthening to hurricane-status before the system reached the Lesser Antilles.[8][10] As the disturbance continued to grow increasingly well-defined throughout the day, it was later upgraded to a moderate-range tropical storm – based on satellite estimates – at 21:00 UTC that day, receiving the name Maria.[11] At that time, Maria was situated 620 mi (1,000 km) east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles.[12]

Most intense Atlantic hurricanes
Rank Hurricane Season Pressure
hPa inHg
1 Wilma 2005 882 26.05
2 Gilbert 1988 888 26.23
3 "Labor Day" 1935 892 26.34
4 Rita 2005 895 26.43
5 Allen 1980 899 26.55
6 Camille 1969 900 26.58
7 Katrina 2005 902 26.64
8 Mitch 1998 905 26.73
Dean 2007
10 Maria 2017 908 26.81
Source: HURDAT[13]

A central dense overcast and favorable outflow developed atop the center of circulation, which enabled Maria to become further organized throughout the early morning hours of September 17.[10] After a brief intrusion of dry air exposed the circulation,[14] a convective burst occurred over the center and intensification resumed. Hurricane Hunters investigating the system observed surface winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) and a formative eye feature. Accordingly, the NHC upgraded Maria to hurricane status at 21:00 UTC.[15] Expansion of the central dense overcast and an increasingly complete eyewall signaled steady intensification throughout the overnight of September 17–18.[16] Considerable lightning activity was identified within the hurricane's core early on September 18 and statistical models indicated a high probability of rapid intensification.[17] Explosive strengthening took place shortly thereafter, with aircraft reconnaissance finding surface winds of 120 mph (195 km/h) and a central pressure of 959 mbar (hPa; 28.32 inHg), making Maria a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson scale, and hence a major hurricane. Additionally, radar data revealed a well-defined 12 mi (19 km) wide eye.[18] The eye contracted slightly to 9 mi (14 km) as intensification continued, and the system reached Category 4 strength by 21:00 UTC.[19]

Radar imagery of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico at 09:36 UTC (5:36 a.m. local time), shortly before it stopped transmitting data.

Rapid intensification culminated late on September 18, with Maria achieving Category 5 status just 15 mi (25 km) east-southeast of Dominica.[20] Hurricane Hunters observed surface winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) and a pressure of 925 mbar (hPa; 27.32 inHg) at this time.[21] Maria made landfall in Dominica at 01:15 UTC on September 19,[22] becoming the first Category 5 hurricane on record to strike the island nation.[23] Interaction with the mountains of Dominica imparted slight weakening of the hurricane to Category 4; however, once over the Caribbean Sea Maria regained Category 5 intensity.[24][25] Additional strengthening took place as the storm tracked northwest toward Puerto Rico. Despite the formation of concentric eyewalls—the larger one spanning 25 to 35 mi (40 to 56 km) and the smaller only 5 mi (8.0 km), signalling the start of an eyewall replacement cycle—the inner violent core remained undisrupted through the afternoon.[26] Maria attained its peak intensity around 04:00 UTC on September 20, roughly 30 mi (45 km) south of St. Croix. Sustained winds reached 175 mph (280 km/h) and its central pressure bottomed out at 908 mbar (hPa; 26.85 inHg); this ranks it as the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane since reliable records began.[27][28][29]

Infrared loop of Hurricane Maria passing St. Croix, Vieques, and landfalling on Puerto Rico on the morning of September 20

The hurricane made its closest approach to St. Croix around 05:00 UTC on September 20, passing within 20 mi (30 km) of the island; the storm's outer eyewall lashed the island while the more violent inner eye remained offshore.[30] Hours later, around 08:00 UTC, the outer eyewall struck Vieques, an island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.[31] By this time, the outer eye became dominant as the inner one decayed, and the eyewall replacement cycle caused Maria to weaken to Category 4 strength.[32] Maria made landfall just south of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, around 10:15 UTC with sustained winds of 155 mph (250 km/h),[33] making it the strongest to hit the island since the 1928 San Felipe Segundo hurricane.[34] Maria maintained a general west-northwest course across Puerto Rico, emerging over the Atlantic Ocean shortly before 18:00 UTC. Interaction with the mountainous terrain resulted in substantial weakening; sustained winds fell to 110 mph (175 km/h) and the central pressure rose to 957 mbars (hPa; 28.26 inHg).[35] With favorable environmental conditions, Maria steadily reorganized as it moved away from Puerto Rico. A large eye, 45 mi (75 km) wide, developed with deep convection blossoming around it. Early on September 21, the system regained Category 3 intensity.[36]

Initially, cooler waters stirred up by Hurricane Irma two weeks prior limited Maria's reorganization.[37] During the afternoon of September 21, the system traversed the Navidad and Silver banks north of the Dominican Republic; shoaling from the region's shallow waters temporarily interfered with measurements of surface winds.[38] Convection around the storm's eye deepened and its eye became better defined that night, and the hurricane reached a tertiary peak with sustained winds of 125 mph (205 km/h).[39] An increase in southwesterly wind shear prompted gradual weakening of the hurricane, starting with restriction of banding features and later degradation of the eyewall.[40][41] Late on September 22, the hurricane turned north-northwest as it reached the western periphery of the ridge previously steering it northwest.[42] Maria fluctuated in organization throughout September 23, with its eye periodically clearing and becoming cloud-filled; it maintained Category 3 hurricane strength during this phase.[43][44] Despite a decreasing central pressure, the storm finally weakened to Category 2 strength early on September 24. Hurricane Hunters observed flight-level winds of 116 to 135 mph (187 to 217 km/h); however, surface wind returns by the NOAA's Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer were only 90 mph (150 km/h). This indicated below-average mixing down of winds aloft.[45][46] By this time, Maria's trajectory shifted almost due north between the aforementioned ridge and a cut-off low over the eastern Gulf of Mexico.[46]

Weakening accelerated later on September 24 into September 25, as the hurricane traversed a cold wake—with sea surface temperatures of 75–77 °F (24–25 °C)—created by Hurricane Jose a week prior. Maria degraded to Category 1 strength during this time.[47] Early on September 25, Maria's structure changed dramatically as its inner-core collapsed. The low-level circulation became exposed to the northwest, and most of the deep convection shifted to the eastern half of the storm.[48] Maria further weakened into a tropical storm during the late afternoon of September 26.[49] However, a sustained convective burst resulted in Maria's winds increasing to hurricane-force once again on September 27,[50] with banding features evident on the eastern part of the circulation.[51] Despite this, northwesterly wind shear continued to impinge on the storm, and Maria once again weakened to a tropical storm early on September 28. Simultaneously, Maria began to accelerate to the east-northeast as it became embedded into the mid-latitude westerlies.[52] Gradually weakening, Maria soon began to move over sea surface temperatures of 73 °F (23 °C) and below, causing most of its convection to dissipate. Late on September 30, Maria transitioned into an extratropical cyclone.[53] During the next couple of days, Maria's remnant accelerated towards the United Kingdom, while rapidly weakening.[54][55] Maria's remnants later crossed the Iberian Peninsula into the western Mediterranean Sea on October 3, before being absorbed by another frontal system later on the same day.[56]

Preparations

The U.S. Navy helps evacuate military personnel from the U.S. Virgin Islands, ahead of Hurricane Maria

Upon the initiation of the National Hurricane Center (NHC)'s first advisories for the system that would become Tropical Storm Maria on the morning of September 16, the government of France issued tropical storm watches for the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, while St. Lucia issued a tropical storm watch for its citizens, and the government of Barbados issued a similar watch for Dominica.[57] Barbados would later that day declare a tropical storm watch for its citizens and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.[58] The government of Antigua and Barbuda issued Hurricane watches for the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat by the time of the NHC's second advisory which declared Maria a tropical storm.[59][60] The Dominican Republic activated the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters for humanitarian satellite coverage on the 20th.[61]

Puerto Rico

Still recovering from Hurricane Irma two weeks prior, approximately 80,000 remained without power as Maria approached.[62] Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) struggled with increasing debt, reaching $9 billion even before the hurricanes prompting them to file for bankruptcy. Furthermore, the company lost 30 percent of its employees since 2012. Aging infrastructure across the island makes the grid more susceptible to damage from storms; the median age of PREPA power plants is 44 years. Inadequate safety also plagues the company and local newspapers frequently describe poor maintenance and outdated controls.[63]

Evacuation orders were issued in Puerto Rico in advance of Maria, and officials announced that 450 shelters would open in the afternoon of September 18.[64] As of September 19, at least 2,000 people in Puerto Rico had sought shelter.[65]

Mainland United States

As Maria approached the coast of North Carolina and threatened to bring tropical storm conditions, a storm surge warning was issued for the coast between Ocracoke Inlet and Cape Hatteras, while a storm surge watch was issued for the Pamlico Sound, the lower Neuse River, and the Alligator River on the morning of September 26. A state of emergency was declared by officials in Dare and Hyde counties, while visitors were ordered to evacuate Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.[66] Ferry service between Ocracoke and Cedar Island was suspended the evening of September 25, and remained suspended on September 26 and 27, due to rough seas, while ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras Island was suspended on September 26 and 27.[66][67] The port in Morehead City was closed by the United States Coast Guard on the morning of September 26.[66] Schools in Dare County closed on September 26 and 27, while schools in Carteret and Tyrrell counties, along with Ocracoke Island, dismissed early on September 26, in anticipation of high winds.[66][67] Schools in Currituck County were closed on September 27, due to high winds.[67]

Impact in the Lesser Antilles

Windward Islands

Deaths and damage by territory
Territory Fatalities Missing Damage
(2017 USD)
Ref
Direct Indirect
Dominica 30 0 >50 >$1 billion [68][69]
Dominican Republic 5 0 1 >$63 million [70][71]
Guadeloupe (France) 2 0 2 $120 million [72]
Haiti 1 2 0 N/A [73]
Martinique (France) 0 0 0 N/A [72]
Saint Kitts and Nevis 0 0 0 $13 million [74]
Puerto Rico (US) 26 23 60 $50 billion [75][76][77][78]
United States Virgin Islands (US) 0 1 0 N/A [79]
United States (US) 4 0 0 N/A [80][81]
Totals: 68 25 >113 >$51.2 billion

The outer rainbands of Maria produced heavy rainfall and strong gusts across the southern Windward Islands.[82] The Hewanorra and George F. L. Charles airports of Saint Lucia respectively recorded 4.33 in (110 mm) and 3.1 in (80 mm) of rain, though even higher quantities fell elsewhere on the island.[83] Scattered rock slides, landslides and uprooted trees caused minor damage and blocked some roads.[84] Several districts experienced localized blackouts due to downed or damaged power lines.[85] The agricultural sector, especially the banana industry, suffered losses from the winds.[84]

Heavy rainfall amounting to 3–5 in (75–125 mm)[86] caused scattered flooding across Barbados; in Christ Church, the flood waters trapped residents from the neighborhood of Goodland in their homes and inundated the business streets of Saint Lawrence Gap.[87][88] Maria stirred up rough seas that flooded coastal sidewalks in Bridgetown and damaged boats as operators had difficulties securing their vessels.[89] High winds triggered an island-wide power outage and downed a coconut tree onto a residence in Saint Joseph.[90][91]

Passing 30 mi (50 km) off the northern shorelines, Maria brought torrential rainfall and strong gusts to Martinique but spared the island of its hurricane-force windfield,[92] which at the time extended 25 mi (35 km) around the eye.[93] The commune of Le Marigot recorded 6.7 inches (170 mm) of rain over a 24-hour period.[94] By September 19, Maria had knocked out power to 70,000 households, about 40% of the population.[95] Water service was cut to 50,000 customers, especially in the communes of Le Morne-Rouge and Gros-Morne.[92][96] Numerous roads and streets, especially along the northern coast, were impassible due to rock slides, fallen trees and toppled power poles.[96][95] Streets in Fort-de-France were inundated.[92] In the seaside commune of Le Carbet, rough seas washed ashore large rocks and demolished some coastal structures,[92][97] while some boats were blown over along the bay of the commune of Schœlcher.[98] Martinique's agricultural sector suffered considerable losses: about 70% of banana crops sustained wind damage, with nearly every tree downed along the northern coast.[99] There were no deaths on the island, although four people were injured in the hurricane—two seriously and two lightly.[96]

Dominica

An aerial view of part of Roseau, revealing widespread damage to roofs. Flash floods clogged roads with debris – vegetative and structural – and mud.

Rainfall ahead of the hurricane caused several landslides in Dominica as water levels across the island began to rise by the afternoon of September 18.[100] Maria made landfall at 21:15 AST that day (1:15 UTC, September 19) as a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 km/h).[22] These winds, the most extreme to ever impact the island,[101] battered the roof of practically every home—including the official residence of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who required rescue when his home began to flood.[102] Downing all cellular, radio and internet services, Maria effectively cut Dominica off from the outside world; the situation there remained unclear for a couple of days after the hurricane's passage.[103][104] Skerrit called the devastation "mind boggling" before going offline, and indicated immediate priority was to rescue survivors rather than assess damage.[103] Initial ham radio reports from the capital of Roseau on September 19 indicated "total devastation," with half the city flooded, cars stranded, and stretches of residential area "flattened".[105]

The next morning, the first aerial footage of Dominica elucidated the scope of the destruction.[106] Maria left the mountainous country blanketed in a field of debris: Rows of houses along the entirety of the coastline were rendered uninhabitable, as widespread floods and landslides littered neighborhoods with the structural remnants.[106][107] The hurricane also inflicted extensive damage to roads and public buildings, such as schools, stores and churches,[107] and affected all of Dominica's 73,000 residents in some form or way.[108] The air control towers and terminal buildings of the Canefield and Douglas Charles airports were severely damaged, although the runways remained relatively intact and open to emergency landings.[108] The disaster affected all of the island's 53 health facilities, including the badly damaged primary hospital, compromising the safety of many patients.[106][109]

A road in the Roseau area is littered with structural debris, damaged vegetation and downed power poles and lines.

The infrastructure of Roseau was left in ruins; practically every power pole and line was downed, and the main road was reduced to fragments of flooded asphalt. The winds stripped the public library of its roof panels and demolished all but one wall of the Baptist church.[110] To the south of Roseau, riverside flooding and numerous landslides impacted the town of Pointe Michel, destroying about 80% of its structures and causing most of the deaths in the country.[111][112] Outside the capital area, the worst of the destruction was concentrated around the east coast and rural areas, where collapsed roads and bridges isolated many villages.[108] The port and fishing town of Marigot, Saint Andrew Parish, was 80% damaged.[113] Settlements in Saint David Parish, such as Castle Bruce, Good Hope and Grand Fond, had been practically eradicated; many homes hung off cliffs or decoupled from their foundations. In Rosalie, rushing waters gushed over the village's bridge and damaged facilities in its bay area. Throughout Saint Patrick Parish, the extreme winds ripped through roofs and scorched the vegetation. Buildings in Grand Bay, the parish's main settlement, experienced total roof failure or were otherwise structurally compromised. Many houses in La Plaine caved in or slid into rivers, and its single bridge was broken.[114]

Overall, the hurricane damaged the roofs of as much as 98% of the island's buildings,[108] including those serving as shelters;[106] half of the houses had their frames destroyed.[108] Its ferocious winds defoliated nearly all vegetation, splintering or uprooting thousands of trees and decimating the island's lush rainforests.[115] The agricultural sector, a vital source of income for the country, was completely wiped out: 100% of banana and tuber plantations was lost, as well as vast amounts of livestock and farm equipment.[108] In Maria's wake, Dominica's population suffered from an island-wide water shortage due to uprooted pipes. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) estimates that the hurricane has caused "billions of dollars" worth of damage.[116] As of October 1, there are 30 fatalities confirmed across the island,[68] with more than 50 reported missing.[117]

Guadeloupe

Numerous trees fell across Guadeloupe, clogging roadways with debris

Blustery conditions spread over Guadeloupe as Maria tracked to the south of the archipelago, which endured hours of unabating hurricane-force winds.[118] The strongest winds blew along the southern coastlines of Basse-Terre Island: Gourbeyre observed a peak wind speed of 101 mph (162 km/h), while winds up north in nearby Baillif reached 92 mph (148 km/h).[119] Along those regions, the hurricane kicked up extremely rough seas with 20 ft (6 m) waves.[120] The combination of rough seas and winds was responsible for widespread structural damage and flooding throughout the archipelago, especially from Pointe-à-Pitre, along Grand-Terre Island's southwestern coast, to Petit-Bourg and the southern coasts on Basse-Terre Island.[72] Aside from wind-related effects, rainfall from Maria was also significant. In just a day, the hurricane dropped nearly a month's worth of rainfall at some important locations: Pointe-à-Pitre recorded a 24-hour total of 7.5 inches (191 mm), while the capital of Basse-Terre measured 6.4 in (163 mm).[94] Even greater quantities fell at higher elevations of Basse Terre Island, with a maximum total of 18.07 in (459 mm) measured at the mountainous locality of Matouba, Saint-Claude.[119]

Throughout the archipelago, the hurricane left 40% of the population (80,000 households) without power and 25% of landline users without service.[121] The islands of Marie-Galante, La Désirade and especially Les Saintes bore the brunt of the winds, which caused heavy damage to structures and nature alike and cut the islands off from their surroundings for several days.[72][121] Homes on Terre-de-Haut Island of Les Saintes were flooded or lost their roofs.[122] On the mainland, sections of Pointe-à-Pitre stood under more than 3.3 feet (1 m) of water, and the city's hospital sustained significant damage.[96] The Basse-Terre region suffered severe damage to nearly 100% of its banana crops, comrpising a total area of more than 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares); farmers described the destruction to their plantations as "complete annihilation".[99] Beyond their impact on farmland, the strong winds ravaged much of the island's vegetation: fallen trees and branches covered practically every major road and were responsible for one death.[121] Another person was killed upon being swept out to sea.[72] Two people disappeared at sea after their vessel capsized offshore La Désirade, east of mainland Grande-Terre.[121] Damage from Maria across Guadeloupe amounted to at least €100 million (US$120 million).[123]

United States Virgin Islands

Maria's outer eyewall was reported by the National Hurricane Center to have crossed Saint Croix while the hurricane was at Category 5 intensity. The hurricane caused extensive and severe damage to the island. Sustained winds at the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge reached 99 to 104 mph (159 to 167 km/h) and gusted to 137 mph (220 km/h).[124] The Luis Hospital suffered roof damage and flooding, but remained operational.[125] One person died from a storm-induced heart attack.[79]

Impact in the Greater Antilles and the United States

Puerto Rico

Wettest tropical cyclones and their remnants in Puerto Rico
Highest-known totals
Precipitation Storm Location Ref.
Rank mm in
1 1,058.7 41.68 T. D. #15 (1970) Jayuya 1 SE [126]
2 962.7 37.90 Maria 2017 Caguas [127]
3 845.6 33.29 Eloise 1975 Dos Bocas [126]
4 804.4 31.67 Isabel 1985 Toro Negro Forest [128]
5 775.0 30.51 Georges 1998 Jayuya [126]
6 662.2 26.07 Hazel 1954 Toro Negro Tunnel [129]
7 652.5 25.69 Klaus 1984 Guavate Camp [126]
8 596.4 23.48 Hortense 1996 Cayey 1 NW [126]
9 584.2 23.00 1899 San Ciriaco hurricane Adjuntas [130]
10 560.1 22.05 Irene 2011 Gurabo Abajo [131]

The storm made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 20.[132] A sustained wind of 64 mph (103 km/h) with a gust to 113 mph (182 km/h) was reported in San Juan, Puerto Rico, immediately prior to the hurricane making landfall on the island. After landfall, wind gusts of 109 mph (175 km/h) were reported at Yabucoa Harbor and 118 mph (190 km/h) at Camp Santiago.[133] In addition, very heavy rainfall occurred throughout the territory, peaking at 37.9 in (962.7 mm) in Caguas.[134] Widespread flooding affected San Juan, waist-deep in some areas, and numerous structures lost their roof.[132] The coastal La Perla neighborhood of San Juan was largely destroyed.[135] Cataño saw extensive damage, with the Juana Matos neighborhood estimated to be 80 percent destroyed.[136] The primary airport in San Juan, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, was slated to reopen on September 22.[137]

Storm surge and flash flooding—stemming from flood gate releases at La Plata Lake Dam—converged on the town of Toa Baja, trapping thousands of residents. Survivors indicate that flood waters rose at least 6 ft (1.8 m) in 30 minutes, with flood waters reaching a depth of 15 ft (4.6 m) in some areas. More than 2,000 people were rescued once military relief reached the town 24 hours after the storm. At least eight people died due to the flooding while many are unaccounted for.[138]

Thousands of homes suffered varying degrees of damage while large swaths of vegetation were shredded by the hurricane's violent winds

As of October 14, the death toll stood at 48, with about 117 people missing.[139] On September 24, Governor Rosselló estimated that the damage from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was surely over the $8 billion damage by Hurricane Georges.[140] Approximately 80 percent of the territory's agriculture was lost due to the hurricane, with agricultural losses estimated at $780 million.[141]

The hurricane completely destroyed the island's power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity.[136][142][143] Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló stated that it could take months to restore power in some locations,[144] with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz estimating that some areas would remain without power for four to six months.[145] Communication networks were crippled across the island. Ninety-five percent of cell networks were down with 48 of the island's 78 counties networks being completely inoperable.[142] Eighty-five per cent of above-ground phone and internet cables were knocked out.[146] Only one radio station, WAPA 680 AM, remained on-air through the storm.[142]

NEXRAD radar destroyed by Maria

The NEXRAD Doppler weather radar of Puerto Rico has also been literally blown away. The radome which covers the radar antenna, and which had to withstand winds of more than 130 mph, was destroyed while the antenna of 30 feet in diameter was blown from the pedestal, the latter remaining intact. The radar is 2800 feet above sea level and the anemometer at the site measured winds of about 145 mph before communications broke, which means winds at that height were likely 20 percent higher than what was seen at sea level. Its replacement will take a few months.[147]

The nearby island of Vieques suffered similarly extensive damage. Communications were largely lost across the island. Widespread property destruction took place with many structures leveled.[148]

Hurricane Maria at Coast Guard Sector San Juan

The recreational ship Ferrel carrying a family of four issued a distress signal while battling 20 ft (6.1 m) seas and 115 mph (185 km/h) winds on September 20.[149] Communications with the vessel were lost near Vieques on September 20. The United States Coast Guard, United States Navy, and British Royal Navy conducted search-and-rescue operations utilizing an HC-130 aircraft, a fast response cutter, USS Kearsarge, RFA Mounts Bay and Navy helicopters.[150] On September 21, the mother and her two children were rescued while the father drowned inside the capsized vessel.[149]

Maria's Category 4 winds broke a 96-foot (29 m) line feed antenna of the Arecibo Observatory, causing it to fall 500 feet (150 m) and puncturing the dish below, greatly reducing its ability to function until repairs can be made.[151][152]

Hispaniola

Torrential rains and strong winds impacted the Dominican Republic as Maria tracked northeast of the country. Assessments on September 22 indicate 110 homes were destroyed, 570 were damaged, and 3,723 were affected by flooding. Approximately 60,000 people lost power in northern areas of the country. Flooding and landslides rendered many roads impassable, cutting off 38 communities.[153] Five people, all of them males, were killed in the Dominican Republic: four of them were of Haitian origin, killed when they were swept away by floodwaters; the fifth person was a Dominican man who died in a landslide.[70]

Hurricane Maria center passed 250 km from Haiti northern coast but has received a large amount of rain and suffered some flooding. Three deaths were reported: a 45-year-old man died in the commune of Limbe, in the department of the North, while attempting to cross a flooded river. Two other people, a woman and a man, were mortally wounded in Cornillon, a small town 40 kilometers east of the capital Port-au-Prince, according to the authorities.[73]

Mainland United States

Maria brushed the Outer Banks of North Carolina on September 26 as the center of the storm passed by offshore and brought tropical storm conditions to the area along with a storm surge, large waves, and rip currents to the coast. The storm knocked out power to 800 Duke Energy Progress customers in the Havelock area, with restoration of power expected to take several hours.[66] Dominion North Carolina Power and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative experienced scattered power outages. Winds of 23 mph (37 km/h) and gusts of 41 mph (66 km/h) were reported at Dare County Regional Airport at Manteo on September 27 while winds of 40 mph (64 km/h) were reported in Duck.[67] Maria caused beach erosion at the ferry terminal at the north end of Ocracoke Island that washed out a portion of the paved lanes where vehicles wait to board the ferry. By the morning of September 26, the storm flooded North Carolina Highway 12 along the coast.[66] Rip currents from Maria caused three swimmers to drown and several others to be rescued at the Jersey Shore on the weekend of September 23–24.[154] A fourth drowning death occurred in Fernandina Beach, Florida.[81]

Aftermath

Dominica

A SH-60 Seahawk flies over Dominica en route to deliver humanitarian aid. The mountainous terrain of the island poses serious challenges to relief operations in more remote areas.

Following the destruction of thousands of homes, most supermarkets and the water supply system, many of Dominica's residents were in dire need of food, water and shelter for days in Maria's wake.[107] Through the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, Dominica received approximately US$19.2 million in emergency funds.[155] USS Wasp, previously deployed to Saint Martin to assist in relief efforts after Hurricane Irma, arrived in Dominica on September 22. The vessel carried two Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopters to assist in distribution of relief supplies in hard-to-reach areas.[156] At the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit called the situation in Dominica an "international humanitarian emergency".[157] The Royal Canadian Navy vessel HMCS St. John's was dispatched to Dominica[158] at the request of Dominican Prime Minister Skerrit.[159]

Puerto Rico

"US Officials Say Damaged Infrastructure Slows Aid Distribution in Puerto Rico" video from Voice of America

The power grid was effectively destroyed by the hurricane, leaving millions without electricity.[161] Governor Ricardo Rosselló estimated that Maria caused at least US$ 90 billion in damage.[162][163] As of September 26, 95% of the island was without power, less than half the population had potable water, and 95% of the island had no cell phone service.[164] On October 6, a little more than two weeks after the hurricane, 89% still had no power, 44% had no water service, and 58% had no cell service.[165] One month after the hurricane, 88% of the island was without power (about 3 million people), 29% lacked potable water (about 1 million people), and 40% of the island had no cell service. All hospitals were open, but most were on backup generators that provide limited power. About half of sewage treatment plants on the island were not still not functioning. FEMA reported 60,000 homes needed roofing help, and had distributed 38,000 roofing tarps.[166]

The island's highways and bridges remained heavily damaged nearly a month later. Only 392 miles of Puerto Rico’s 5,073 miles of road were open. Some towns continue to be isolated and delivery of relief supplies including food and water are hampered-- helicopters are the only alternative.[167] As of October 1, there were ongoing fuel shortage and distribution problems, with 720 of 1,100 gas stations open.[168]

The Guajataca Dam was structurally damaged, and on September 22, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for parts of the area in response.[169] Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate the area, with about 70,000 thought to be at risk.[170]

The entirety of Puerto Rico was declared a Federal Disaster Zone shortly after the hurricane.[160] The Federal Emergency Management Agency planned to open an air bridge with three to four aircraft carrying essential supplies to the island daily starting on September 22.[142] Beyond flights involving the relief effort, limited commercial traffic resumed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on September 22 under primitive conditions. A dozen commercial flights operated daily as of September 26.[171] By October 3, there were 39 commercial flights per day from all Puerto Rican airports, about a quarter of the normal number.[172] The next day, airports were reported to be operating at normal capacity.[173] In marked contrast to the initial relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, on September 22 the only signs of relief efforts were beleaguered Puerto Rican government employees.[174] The territory's government contracted 56 small companies to assist in restoring power.[160] Eight FEMA Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) teams were deployed to assist in rescue efforts.[175]

Comparison of lights at night in Puerto Rico before (top) and after (bottom) Hurricane Maria. Note: Lower image date should read September 25, 2017

On September 24, the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill under Rear Admiral Jeffrey W. Hughes along with the 2,400 marines of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived to assist in relief efforts.[176][177][178][179] By September 24, there were 13 United States Coast Guard ships deployed around Puerto Rico assisting in the relief and restoration efforts: the National Security Cutter USCGC James; the medium endurance cutters USCGC Diligence, USCGC Forward, USCGC Venturous, and USCGC Valiant; the fast response cutters USCGC Donald Horsley, USCGC Heriberto Hernandez, USCGC Joseph Napier, USCGC Richard Dixon, and USCGC Winslow Griesser; the coastal patrol boat USCGC Yellowfin; and the seagoing buoy tenders USCGC Cypress and USCGC Elm.[180] Federal aid arrived on September 25 with the reopening of major ports. Eleven cargo vessels collectively carrying 1.3 million liters of water, 23,000 cots, and dozens of generators arrived.[181] Full operations at the ports of Guayanilla, Salinas, and Tallaboa resumed on September 25, while the ports of San Juan, Fajardo, Culebra, Guayama, and Vieques had limited operations.[175] The United States Air Force Air Mobility Command has dedicated eight C-17 Globemaster aircraft to deliver relief supplies.[175] The Air Force assisted the Federal Aviation Administration with air traffic control repairs to increase throughput capacity.[175]

The United States Transportation Command has moved additional personnel and eight U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Fort Campbell, Kentucky to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to increase distribution capacity.[175] The United States Army Corps of Engineers deployed 670 personnel engaged in assessing and restoring the power grid; as of September 25, 83 generators were installed and an additional 186 generators were en route.[175] As of September 26, agencies of the U.S. government have delivered 4 million meals, 6 million liters of water, 70,000 tarps and 15,000 rolls of roof sheeting.[182] National Guard troops have been activated and deployed to Puerto Rico from Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.[183]

On September 26, the hospital ship USNS Comfort prepared to deploy and subsequently arrived a week later in Puerto Rico.[182][184][185] However, most of the 250 bed floating state-of-the-art hospital has gone unused despite overburdened island clinics and hospitals. Puerto Rico's Department of Health is supposed to refer patients there, but there had been few referrals by October 17. Governor Rosselló explained that "The disconnect or the apparent disconnect was in the communications flow" and added "I asked for a complete revision of that so that we can now start sending more patients over there."[185]

Standing water in Ponce, Puerto Rico more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit the island[186]

On September 27, the Pentagon reopened two major airfields on Puerto Rico and started sending aircraft, specialized units, and a hospital ship to assist in the relief effort; Brigadier General Richard C. Kim, the deputy commanding general of United States Army North, will be responsible for coordinating operations between the military, FEMA and other government agencies, and the private sector.[187] Massive amounts of water, food, and fuel have either been delivered to ports in Puerto Rico or are held up at ports in the mainland United States because there is a lack of trucker drivers to move the goods into the interior; the lack of communication networks has hindered the effort as only 20% of drivers have reported to work.[188] As of September 28, the Port of San Juan has only been able to dispatch 4% of deliveries received and has very little room to accept additional shipments.[189] As of September 28, 44 percent of the population remains without drinking water and the U.S. military is shifting from "a short term, sea-based response to a predominantly land-based effort designed to provide robust, longer term support" with fuel delivery a top priority.[190] A joint Army National Guard and Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) team has established an Installation Staging Base at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station; they are transporting via helicopter Department of Health and Human Services assessment teams to hospitals across Puerto Rico to determine medical requirements.[190] On September 29, the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp which had been providing relief activities to the island of Dominica was diverted to Puerto Rico.[191] As of September 30, FEMA official Alejandro de la Campa stated that 5% of electricity, 33% of the telecommunications infrastructure, and 50% of water services have been restored to the island.[192]

More than a week after Hurricane Maria struck, residents of Ponce, Puerto Rico wait in long lines at an ATM to withdraw cash. [186]

On September 28, 2017, Lieutenant General Jeffrey S. Buchanan was dispatched to Puerto Rico to lead all military hurricane relief efforts there and to see how the military can be more effective in the recovery effort, particularly in dealing with the thousands of containers of supplies that are stuck in port because of "red tape, lack of drivers, and a crippling power outage".[193][194] On September 29 he stated that there were not enough troops and equipment in place but more would be arriving soon.[195]

With centralized fossil-fuel-based power plants and grid infrastructure expected to be out of commission for weeks to months, some renewable energy projects are in the works, including the shipment of hundreds of Tesla Powerwall battery systems to be integrated with solar PV systems[196] and Sonnen solar microgrid projects at 15 emergency community centers, the first expected to be completed in October.[197] In addition, other solar companies jumped into help, including Sunnova and New Start Solar. A charity called Light Up Puerto Rico raised money to both purchase and deliver solar products, including solar panels, on Oct. 19.[198].

Many TV and movie stars are donating money to hurricane relief organizations to help the victims of Harvey and Maria. Prominently, Jennifer Aniston has pledged a million U.S. dollars, dividing the amount equally between the Red Cross and The Ricky Martin Foundation for Puerto Rico. Martin's foundation had raised over three million dollars as of October 13.[199]

On October 10, 2017, Carnival Cruise Lines announced that it would resume departures of cruises from San Juan on October 15, 2017.[200] On October 13, both CNN and The Guardian reported that Puerto Ricans are drinking water being pumped from a well at an EPA Superfund site;[201][202] the water was later determined to be safe to drink.[203]

On October 13, the Trump administration requested $4.9 billion to fund a loan program that Puerto Rico can use to address basic functions and infrastructure needs.[204] As of October 20, only 18.5% of the island had electricity, 49.1% of cell towers were working, and 69.5% of customers had running water, with the slowest restoration in the north.[205] Ports and commercial flights were back to normal operations, but 7.6% of USPS locations, 11.5% of supermarkets, and 21.4% of gas stations were still closed.[205] 4,246 people were still living in emergency shelters, and tourism was down by half.[205]

Additional fatalities

On October 5, NPR reported an additional 49 bodies with unidentified cause of death sent to a hospital morgue since the storm.[206] The Los Angeles Times reported 50 more deaths than normal in one region in the three days after the hurricane.[207] Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Reporting reported 69 hospital morgues are at “capacity.” Exact figure is unknown.[208] According to El Vocero newspaper, 350 bodies are being stored at the Institute of Forensic Sciences (equivalent to the state medical examiner's office), many of which are still awaiting autopsies. In the report, Héctor Pesquera, secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, did not say how many, if any, of the cadavers were there before the storm. (On Sunday, Pesquera denied claims that there was a backlog of unexamined bodies.)[209]

On October 11, Vox reported 81 deaths directly or indirectly related to the hurricane with another 450 deaths awaiting investigation. Furthermore, they indicated 69 people to be missing.[210] On October 14, CNN reported the number of missing people to be about 117.[139] In a message to the DHS, Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Bennie Thompson wrote, "It would be morally reprehensible to intentionally undereport the true death toll to portray relief efforts as more successful than they are."[210]

U.S. Virgin Islands

As of September 25, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that the ports of Crown Bay, East Gregerie Channel, West Gregerie Channel, and Redhook Bay on Saint Thomas; the ports of Krause Lagoon, Limetree Bay, and Frederiksted on Saint Croix, and the port of Cruz Bay on Saint John are open with restrictions.[175] On September 25, 11 flights arrived with 200,000 meals, 144,000 liters of water, and tarps.[175] Troops have been activated and deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands from the Virginia National Guard,[211] the West Virginia National Guard,[212] Missouri National Guard.[213], and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the Tennessee Army National Guard.

Nearly a month after the hurricane, only 16 percent of people in St. Thomas and 1.6 percent of people in St. Croix have had electricity restored.[214]

Criticism of U.S. government response

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (pictured) harshly criticized the federal response to Maria in Puerto Rico as inadequate.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not immediately waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico, which prevented the commonwealth from receiving any aid and supplies from non-U.S.-flagged vessels from U.S. ports.[215] The waiver was granted after two days, while in contrast the waiver was not granted for Hurricane Harvey until fourteen days after the hurricane and was narrowly drafted to only allow fuel transportation for seven days.[216] A DHS Security spokesman said that there would be enough U.S. shipping for Puerto Rico, and that the limiting factors would be port capacity and local transport capacity.[217][217][218][219] This statement was supported by AFL/CIO which issued a "fact checking" statement regarding the Jones Act and its effect upon recovery relief.[220] The Jones Act was waived for a period of ten days starting on September 28 following a formal request by Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló.[221]

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, called the disaster a "terrifying humanitarian crisis" and pleaded for relief efforts to be sped up on September 26.[222] The White House contested claims that the administration was not responding effectively.[223] General Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, defended the Trump Administration's response, and reiterated that relief efforts were hampered by Puerto Rico being an island rather than on the mainland.[224] President Donald Trump responded to accusations that he does not care about Puerto Rico: "Puerto Rico is very important to me, and Puerto Rico -- the people are fantastic people. I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans. And these are great people, and we have to help them. The island is devastated."[225] Frustrated with the federal government's "slow and inadequate response", relief group Oxfam announced on October 2 that it plans to get involved in the humanitarian aid effort, sending a team to "assess a targeted and effective response" and support its local partners' on-the-ground efforts.[226]

On October 2, 2017, Oxfam released a rare statement; "While the US government is engaged in relief efforts, it has failed to address the most urgent needs. Oxfam has monitored the response in Puerto Rico closely, and we are outraged at the slow and inadequate response the US Government has mounted,” said Oxfam America’s president Abby Maxman. “Oxfam rarely responds to humanitarian emergencies in the US and other wealthy countries, but as the situation in Puerto Rico worsens and the federal government’s response continues to falter, we have decided to step in. The US has more than enough resources to mobilize an emergency response, but has failed to do so in a swift and robust manner.”[227] In an update on October 19, the agency called the situation in Puerto Rico "unacceptable" and called for "a more robust and efficient response from the US government".[228]

On October 3, 2017, President Trump visited Puerto Rico. He compared the damage from Hurricane Maria to that of Hurricane Katrina, saying: "If you looked — every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing, nobody has seen anything like this (...) What is your death count as of this morning, 17?".[229] Trump's remarks were widely criticized for implying that Hurricane Maria was not a "real catastrophe".[230][231] While in Puerto Rico, Trump also distributed canned goods and paper towels to crowds gathered at a relief shelter[232] and told the residents of the devastated island "I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that's fine. We saved a lot of lives."[233]

On October 12, Trump tweeted, "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!",[234] prompting further criticism from lawmakers in both parties[235]; Mayor Cruz replied, "You are incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done."[202] In response to a request for clarification on the tweet from Governor Rosselló, John F. Kelly assured that no resources were being pulled and replied: "Our country will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done".[236]

See also

References

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External links

  • The National Hurricane Center (NHC)'s advisory archive on Hurricane Maria
  • Hurricane Maria Viewed From Space by NOAA's GOES East Satellite on YouTube
  • NASA GPM Satellite Analyzes Rainfall in Hurricane Maria on YouTube
  • Track and wind speed history from The Weather Channel
  • A Walk Through Dominica, Hours After Hurricane Maria from the New York Times
  • Overview of Federal Efforts to Prepare for and Respond to Hurricane Maria - activity summaries, graphic
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