Puerto Ricans vow to rebuild after Hurricane Maria devastation

After leaving a deadly trail of destruction on a string of smaller Caribbean islands,  Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southeast coast around daybreak, packing winds of around 150mph (240kph).(Photo: Hector Retamel, AFP/Getty Images)

Stunned Puerto Ricans vowed to rebuild Thursday, after Hurricane Maria slammed into their island, knocking out all power, toppling cellphone towers, causing landslides and ripping off roofs during an hours-long barrage.

The extent of the damage is currently unknown because communication to dozens of municipalities was cut off after the Category 4 storm hit Wednesday.

Packing 155 mph winds, it was the strongest hurricane to slam into Puerto Rico in more than 80 years.

Maria, now a Category 3 storm, was lashing the northeastern Dominican Republic early Thursday. It is expected to pass near the Turks and Caicos later in the day.

The storm has caused at least 10 deaths across the Caribbean, including seven in Dominica and two in Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico’s governor told CNN that one man died after being hit by flying debris on the island.

“God is with us,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted as pummeling winds and horizontal rain paralyzed the island and turned streets into rivers. “We are stronger than any hurricane. Together we will rise.”

Rosselló, who asked President Trump for a formal disaster declaration, said the entire island was without power. More than 11,000 people sought refuge in about 500 shelters prepared by the government, Rosselló said.

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” Felix Delgado, the mayor of the northern city of Catano, told the Associated Press.

Firefighters began to remove trees with chainsaws Wednesday, and used small bulldozers to lift fallen concrete light posts.

Shawn Zimmerman, 27, a student from Lewistown, Pa. who moved to Puerto Rico nearly two years ago, was among those who helped clear the smaller branches.

“The storm didn’t bother me,” he said.

“It’s the devastation. I get goosebumps. It’s going to take us a long time.”

The U.S. territory, a decade deep in recession and struggling to pay its bills, wrestled with a massive recovery effort after Hurricane Irma sideswiped the island on Sept. 6, damaging buildings and knocking out power to a third of homes and businesses.

Contributing: The Associated Press – https://usat.ly/2xhxNNX