All of Puerto Rico was without power after Hurricane Maria bulldozed over the island Wednesday, coming ashore as the worst category 4 hurricane in 85 years. The eyewall swept St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had escaped the brunt of Hurricane Irma two weeks before and was serving as a staging area for relief efforts.
Maria “has destroyed everything it has had in its path,” Puerto Rico emergency management director Abner Gomez said at a Wednesday news briefing. The hurricane may have knocked out major high-voltage power lines, said Gomez. Even when Irma brushed Puerto Rico earlier there was worry the island’s aged and fragile power grid could be knocked out for weeks.
After passing St. Croix Hurricane Maria made its Puerto Rico landfall around 6:15 a.m. just south of Yabucoa Harbor, 25 minutes after the last images were received from the National Weather Service radar at San Juan, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service. They continued to track the storm with imagery from the GOES-16 weather satellite, and by 5 p.m. estimated the storm was down to category 2 with winds around 110 mph.
On Thursday Maria was maintaining 115 mph winds with slight strengthening to 120 mph forecasted. Warnings continued for the northern Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos islands, and the southern Bahamas. NHC forecasters expected a gradual turn to the north-northeast after passing the Turks and Caicos, but say the storm can maintain hurricane strength over the western Atlantic during the next five days.
A British Royal Navy helicopter crew rescued a woman and two children Thursday from the capsized vessel Ferrel near Vieques, P.R., that had gone missing Wednesday after Coast Guard watchstanders eceived an alert via emergency position indicating radio beacon and then a distress call. The call stated the Ferrel was disabled and adrift in 20’ seas and 100 knot winds, with two adults and two children on board.
An adult male mariner was reported deceased in the capsized vessel, which was inaccessible to search and rescue crews, the Coast Guard said. An HC-130 Hercules search plane from the Coast Guard air station at Clearwater, Fla., had located the vessel overturned with the three survivors on top. A helicopter from the Royal Navy auxiliary vessel Mounts Bay was vectored to the location and hoisted the survivors to safety.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is positioned to start helping Puerto Rico and re-enter the Virgin Islands, FEMA administrator Brock Long told CNN. Civilian and military relief forces were pulled back from the USVI ahead of Hurricane Maria’s approach, leaving some Customs and Border Protection and other security forces to shelter in place and assist local authorities on St. Thomas and St. John.
Coast Guard and FEMA elements withdrew to San Juan, where the port was closed at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Restoring power will be a big part of the renewed effort on the islands, said Long. Days before Maria threatened the Corps of Engineers transported generators to St. Thomas to help restore local power and water supplies.
The intensity of the threat to Puerto Rico led to a marathon mission for an Air Force Reserve “hurricane hunter” crew who tracked the storm’s progress clear across the island, NHC forecasters noted late in the day.
After beginning their mission this morning before the center first moved onshore, the crew went above and beyond, returning to Curacao to refuel, and then heading back to Puerto Rico to catch Maria's center when it first moved back off the coast,” the forecasters wrote in their 5 p.m. update.
“The data collected by the crew was incredibly important for us to analyze Maria's intensity and structure after moving across the island, and we are grateful for their effort.”
Off southern New England, Tropical Storm Jose is ending its cruise up the East Coast, "gradually spinning down" in an almost stationary position with winds up to 60 mph, the hurricane center reported. With a tropical storm warning in effect for Cape Cod, Mass., The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority suspended Thursday service to Nantucket, and temporarily suspended service to Martha's Vineyard until wind and sea conditions improved.