UPDATE: 70,000 Puerto Ricans told to flee failing dam

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rican authorities are scrambling to evacuate as many as 70,000 people who are downstream of a failing dam.

More than 15 inches of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

Authorities launched an evacuation of tens of thousands of people living downstream, sending buses to move people away and sending frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area. Officials say between 50,000 and 70,000 people may need to be evacuated.

The national weather service first learned of a "contained breach" during a Friday afternoon inspection. The Puerto Rican government confirmed it is more than a fissure, and concluded that the dam is actually failing.

Officials say they don't know how much time residents have to evacuate.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas are no longer under a hurricane warning as Hurricane Maria passes east of the Bahamas as a Category 3 storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria continues to have maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The core of the storm was about 115 miles (185 kilometers) east-northeast of the southeastern Bahamas at 5 p.m. Friday afternoon.

The Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas join the central Bahamas in now being under a tropical storm warning, rather than a hurricane warning.

Maria is moving to the north-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph) and the storm is expected to slowly weaken while making a turn toward the north by late Saturday.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The head of the House's tax-writing committee is putting forward legislation to give temporary tax relief to victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

The bill from Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, would ease requirements for deducting individual property losses and allow people to draw on their retirement funds without penalty. The legislation also seeks to encourage people around the U.S. to donate to hurricane relief efforts by temporarily suspending limits on deductions for charitable contributions.

Brady says he plans to formally introduce the bill Monday. He says it "helps hurricane victims keep more of their paycheck, deduct more of the cost of their expensive property damage, and have more affordable and immediate access to money they have saved for their retirement."


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- U.S. military officials say it is still impossible to know how long it will take for communication and power to be restored in Puerto Rico.

Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Derek P. Rydholm said at the Pentagon on Friday that the military is flying in mobile communications systems to assist. Still, he acknowledged that based on the volume of power outages, it will be some time before people in Puerto Rico will be able to communicate with their families outside the island.

Brig. Gen. Diana Holland of the Army Corps of Engineers says that 95-100 percent of the island is still without power.

Until today, Rydholm said, "there was no real understanding at all of the gravity of the situation."

Rydholm and Holland both said that so far they were not aware of any security problems such as looting in Puerto Rico.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is asking for a bipartisan delegation of congressional leaders to visit Puerto Rico so they can personally witness the damage caused by Hurricane Maria and better understand the island's needs.

Gutierrez is making his request in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Gutierrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, says what little Puerto Rico had in the way of public health and power infrastructure "was literally blown away" by the Category 4 hurricane.

He says that to understand the scope of the damage and the magnitude of the recovery, members of Congress need to see it firsthand.

Gutierrez says years of recession, an on-going financial crisis, and high levels of outmigration present unique challenges for the island and its government.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The National Weather Service says the Guajataca Dam is failing in western Puerto Rico and buses are evacuating people "as quickly as they can."

The government called the situation "extremely dangerous."

The weather service office in San Juan says dam operators reported at 2:10 p.m. that the dam at the northern end of Lake Guajataca in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico was failing and causing flash flooding downstream.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Hurricane Maria is now moving away from the Turks and Caicos Islands as a powerful Category 3 storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria still has maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The core of the storm was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) north of Grand Turk Island at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon.

Maria is moving to the north-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph) and the storm is expected to slowly weaken while making a turn toward the north by late Saturday. Forecasters in the Miami center say Maria's fierce core is expected to move away from the Turks and Caicos Islands in coming hours and move to the northeast and east of the Bahamas over the weekend.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- As some talked of leaving Puerto Rico because of power outages and other hardships in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, others signaled they will stay put.

Israel Molina, 68, owner of Israel Mini Market in San Juan, said he has owned the shop for 26 years. He bought it and rebuilt it after Hurricane Hugo hit.

"This is catastrophic," he said, as he surveyed pieces of roofing that had been ripped away. But Molina has no plans to leave -- for now.

"I'm from here. I believe we have to step up to the task. If everyone leaves, what are we going to do? With all the pros and the cons, I will stay here," he said, and then paused. "I might have a different response tomorrow."

Not far away, Diana Jaquez assessed damage from the storm with help from her husband as their children played. She is one of the owners of the Coquette hair salon.

"I haven't decided yet," she said when asked if she planned to leave Puerto Rico.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Emergency responders are reporting at least 110 homes have been destroyed by floodwaters in different communities around the Dominican Republic.

Juan Manuel Mendez, an emergency operations chief, says at least 18,500 evacuees are being kept from their homes while waiting for floodwaters to subside.

Authorities say rivers overflowed and debris carried along by the floodwaters destroyed four bridges and have cut off 78 small communities on the island.

"The river caught us by surprise," said Maria Acosta, a mother of three who used a bucket to try to remove mud that washed into her home in El Seibo, in the eastern part of the nation.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to the Caribbean for the second time in a week to get a firsthand look at hurricane damage.

The Democrat departed from JFK Airport on Friday morning for Puerto Rico. Cuomo's office says Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked his New York counterpart for assistance to help the recovery.

Cuomo is traveling on a donated JetBlue aircraft that officials said was the first flight to depart for San Juan since the storm. Last week Cuomo traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma.

New York plans to send about 240 National Guardsmen and state troopers to assist Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The state is also sending drinking water, ready-to-eat meals, electrical generators and other supplies for the island territory ravaged by Hurricane Maria.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- An Air National Guard unit from Maine is deploying to the U.S. Virgin Islands to provide critical communications to support the recovery efforts.

Seven Air National Guard members from the 265th Combat Communications Squadron mobilized late Thursday.The 265th is tasked with establishing communications links for military, and if necessary, for civilian response authorities. The U.S. Virgin Islands are reeling after back-to-back hurricanes.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Maria's death toll across the Caribbean has climbed to at least 27.

There were at least 15 deaths on Dominica and six on Puerto Rico. Other islands reporting deaths were Haiti, three; Guadeloupe, two; and Dominican Republic, one.

In Haiti, government authorities reported two people were killed during a lightning strike in the community of Cornillon and a 45-year-old man died while trying to cross a river Thursday morning. Authorities say northern areas of Haiti were pounded by heavy rain from Hurricane Maria.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The president of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina, is touring areas hit hard by Maria.

Authorities say several rivers burst their banks in the island nation, destroying several bridges and inflicting major damage on several highways. Emergency crews are now clearing storm debris on a key highway to the eastern tip of the island and its beach resorts of Bavaro-Punta Cana. Meanwhile, some 300,000 homes are without power after Maria's winds toppled many utility poles.

Also Friday, Puerto Rico was digging out from the storm. Some generators in Puerto Rico have been breaking down or running out of gas, prompting at least two hotels to evacuate hundreds of people. Families also were awaiting news about when the island's airport would reopen, with many planning to fly their children to the U.S. to temporarily enroll them in schools there until life in Puerto Rico returns to normal.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rico residents say they are struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"This is an absolute crisis," said Alana Yendez, a 44-year-old maintenance worker as she sat on the steps of her devastated home and rocked her 2-month-old grandson, Armani James. "There's so much flooding. My roof completely collapsed."

She and 11 other relatives sought shelter in a next-door building that a family had abandoned. They had six barrels of water they estimated would last them one month.

Nearby, 64-year-old retiree Neida Febus left her home carrying bowls of rice and ground meat topped with avocado. She had cooked for her neighbors who shared some of their food earlier as they waited for officials to say when the power might return.

"It won't be until Christmas," she said. "This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other."


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Hurricane Maria is now churning northeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says the core of the major Category 3 hurricane is now about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Grand Turk Island. It's moving to the northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).

A hurricane warning continues in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as the Southeastern Bahamas. The storm is expected to turn toward the north and northwest later Friday and head northeast and east of the Bahamas through Sunday. Maria is also expected to begin to gradually weaken over the next 48 hours.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Civil Defense officials say a man has died in the north of the Dominican Republic when the ground gave way and his roof collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's heavy rains.

Antonio Miranda, 32, died Thursday night in the rural community of San Victor, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the capital, said Antonio Sanchez, a regional Civil Defense chief.

Civil Defense officials say the storm has triggered flooding in several areas in the north and east of that country and that some 16,000 people have been evacuated. Authorities say at least 15 houses have been destroyed and communications are cut to about 25 communities after rivers overflowed their banks from the heavy rains. Many are using buckets trying to remove mud and debris that has washed into homes in the flooding.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Puerto Rican officials say at least six people have died in connection with Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety Secretary H�ctor M. Pesquera said Friday that authorities were aware of "other potential fatalities" but have not been able to confirm them.

The six casualties occurred in three municipalities. In Utuado three people died in landslides. In Toa Baja, two people died as a result of the flooding. And in Bayam�n, one person died after being struck by a panel.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heading to the Caribbean for the second time in a week to get a firsthand look at the damage left behind by a hurricane.

The Democrat announced Thursday that he'll travel to Puerto Rico with New York state emergency response officials to help recovery efforts on the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

Cuomo's office says Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello asked his New York counterpart for emergency goods and services to help the recovery.

Cuomo's trip comes a week after he traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands at the invitation of the territory's governor to see the damage caused by Hurricane Irma. Cuomo vowed to send New York aid to the devastated islands.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the eye of Hurricane Maria is near the Turks and Caicos islands while rains and dangerous high waves are starting to subside along the northern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

As of 5 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east-northeast of Grand Turk Island and is moving northwest at 7 mph (11 kph).

The Category 3 hurricane has maximum sustained winds near 125 mph (205 kph) but gradual weakening is expected during the next two days.

The hurricane has ravaged Puerto Rico and people there face the prospect of going weeks and perhaps months without electricity.


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The eye of Hurricane Maria is nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico tries to recover from the storm's devastation.

Two days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions on the island face 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.

The loss of power has left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some have contemplated leaving the island.



 
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