SAN JUAN (CBSMiami) – Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans were stunned by Hurricane Maria after it crushed concrete balconies and paralyzed the island with landslides, flooding and downed trees.
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.
Overnight rescues were performed after buildings where people had taken shelter were badly damaged or had their roof blown off.
Irailka Parrilla rode out the storm in a shelter with her children.
“The winds start to increase, we were very scared,” she said. “The roof started falling like pieces.”
Maria knocked out power island-wide. Upprooted 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.
On the island of Dominica, the storm killed at least seven people and left a path of destruction. The U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix was also hit hard, some homes were so badly damaged that they were stripped down to their foundation.
Mark and Ashley Mullins were on vacation in Puerto Rico celebrating their tenth anniversary when Maria hit. During the storm, the Ohio couple stayed in their hotel’s parking garage.
“We get snow storms and stuff in Ohio, but um nothing like where you can literally hear death, like right there,” said Ashley.
For now, they’re stranded.
“I’m still scared just cause we don’t know how bad it is out there and um how we are going to get home ,” she said.
Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Officials say hundreds of homes have been destroyed and the few places with WiFi are becoming life lines for people to get in touch with family and friends to let them know they are all right.
For those who have family or friends on the island, a hot line has been set up that you can call and check on them. That number is (202) 778-0710.