Hurricane Maria Barrels Toward Turks and Caicos Islands - NBC Bay Area
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Hurricane Maria Barrels Toward Turks and Caicos Islands

Maria, which has been blamed for at least 18 deaths across the Caribbean, was centered early Thursday about 70 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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    Hurricane Maria caused widespread flooding and damage after pounding Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Rescue crews have fanned out across the U.S. territory as it tries to rebuild amid an economic crisis. (Published Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017)

    Hurricane Maria's large eye was slowly approaching the Turks and Caicos Islands Thursday evening after it lashed the northeastern Dominican Republic from offshore earlier in the day. The storm was blamed for at least 18 deaths in the Caribbean.

    As of 2 a.m. Friday, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and was about 45 miles (70 km) east-southeast of Grand Turk Island. Maria was moving northwest at 7 mph (12 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center.

    A turn toward the north-northwest is forecast early Friday, with that motion continuing through Saturday.

    The center said some fluctuation in intensity is likely during the next day or so. Hurricane warnings remained in parts of the Dominican Republic, the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

    The White House says President Donald Trump has spoken with the governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trump said earlier Thursday that Puerto Rico was "absolutely obliterated," adding that he will soon visit the territory. Trump also said the Virgin Islands were "flattened" by Maria, as well as Irma.

    The sky was darkening Thursday afternoon as 10-year-old Sarah Jimenez laid out three plastic buckets on her grandmother's patio in hopes of capturing rainwater.

    "We can use it to at least flush the toilets," she told her grandmother.

    A day after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions of people on the island faced the dispiriting prospect of weeks and perhaps months without electricity.

    The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million, leaving many without power to light their homes, cook, pump water or run fans, air conditioners or refrigerators.

    As a result, Sarah and others hunted for gas canisters for cooking, collected rainwater or prepared themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

    "You cannot live here without power," said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to go back to the U.S. mainland on Saturday to live there temporarily.

    Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit cried as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua, saying that more than 15 people died due to the storm and that it was a miracle that the death toll was not in the hundreds. 

    Two people died in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe, while Puerto Rico's governor told CNN one man died after being hit by flying debris, though that has not been confirmed.

    The toll could still rise. Skerrit said 20 people remained missing Thursday, days after Maria hit as a Category 5 storm, while severe flooding was still a danger Puerto Rico.

    Its forecasted path would take it far offshore of the U.S. mainland by the beginning of next week.

    Residents in the small town of Samana in the Dominican Republic began cleaning up on Thursday after Hurricane Maria barreled through earlier in the day.

    Homes, all of them made of wood, were destroyed, their roofs ripped off and carried away. Residents in the town wondered how the government would help them now that they had nothing left.

    Dominica took the first hit from the storm, which brought its massive Category 5 force in a direct hit late Monday night and early Tuesday. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, the mountainous island's communication systems were cutt off and its airport was shut.

    Skerrit said Dominica "is going to need all the help the world has to offer."

    Puerto Ricans are rebuilding after the hurricane slammed into the U.S. territory Wednesday, crushing concrete balconies and paralyzing the island with landslides, flooding and downed trees.

    Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans stunned by a hurricane that crushed concrete balconies and paralyzed the island with landslides, flooding and downed trees vowed to slowly rebuild amid an economic crisis as rescue crews fanned out across the U.S. territory.

    The extent of the damage is unknown given that dozens of municipalities remain isolated and without communication after Maria hit the island Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years.

    Uprooted trees and widespread flooding blocked many highways and streets across the island, creating a maze that forced drivers to go against traffic and past police cars that used loudspeakers to warn people they must respect a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed by the governor to ensure everyone's safety.

    In the Dominican Republican, Maria knocked down trees and power lines. But Joel Santos, president of the country's hotel association, said the hurricane did not damage the tourism infrastructure, even though it passed close to Punta Cana, the major resort area on the eastern tip of the island.

    In Dominica, where Maria laid waste to hundreds of homes and was blamed for at least 15 deaths, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wept as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua.

    "It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths," he said. He added: "Dominica is going to need all the help the world has to offer."