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Puerto Rico assesses damage as Hurricane Maria swipes Dominican Republic

By
Doug G. Ware and Ray Downs
Damage from Hurricane Maria is seen in San Juan town, Puerto Rico, on Thursday. Photo by Jorge Muniz/EPA-EFE
Damage from Hurricane Maria is seen in San Juan town, Puerto Rico, on Thursday. Photo by Jorge Muniz/EPA-EFE

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Reports of death and destruction were trickling out of power-hampered Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria brushed past the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

Local media reports indicate at least 19 people have been killed in Dominica, Guadalupe and Puerto Rico as the storm tore through the Caribbean.

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Authorities have shut down virtually all operations on the Dominican Republic as Maria swirled off the coast to the northeast throughout Thursday.

Maria has weakened since it barreled through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane Wednesday. And although it didn't make direct landfall in the Dominican Republic, strong winds are expected to lash the country.

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Dominica was hit hard by Maria, which caused at least 15 deaths on the island, according to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

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"So far, we would have buried in excess of 15 people," Skerrit told Al Jazeera. "Dominica is going to need all the help the world has to offer."

Officials of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe said two people were killed there.

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In Puerto Rico, two people have been reported killed due to the storm. One man died when his boat capsized near Vieques. Aboard the vessel was the man's wife and two children. The U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue the wife and children but unable to rescue the man in time.

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Another Puerto Rico man was killed by a piece of flying lumber, officials said.

The U.S. territory, home to about 3.5 million people, is dealing with mass power outages that could last for months because the island's outdated electric grid was destroyed.

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Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN that Maria is the "most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history."

"When we can get outside -- we will find our island destroyed," Puerto Rico emergency and disaster chief Abner Gómez said. "The information we received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its wake."

Forecasters say the island must continue to watch out for heavy rains and potentially life-threatening floods -- not to mention dangerous surf and tide conditions.

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Days earlier, Maria blew past the British and U.S. Virgin Islands -- leaving much of those islands in shambles. The French island of Martinique avoided a direct hit Wednesday.

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