SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - 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 15 deaths across the Caribbean. The prime minister of Dominica said Thursday that more than 15 people are dead and 20 remain missing after Hurricane Maria's direct hit on the Caribbean island.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit cried as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua. He said it was a miracle that the death toll was not in the hundreds.
Skerrit said Dominica "is going to need all the help the world has to offer."
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.
“This is going to be a disaster,” said restaurant owner Jean Robert Auguste, who rode out the storm in a San Juan hotel. “We haven’t made any money this month.”
The storm remains several days away from the continental U.S., and forecasters say Maria's most likely path has it turning north without making landfall in Florida or elsewhere on the East Coast.
In Florida, Satellite Beach resident Erika Rodriguez said she last spoke to her family members Tuesday evening as the storm bore down. Rodriguez, like millions of others with connections to Puerto Rico, was waiting for lines of communication to improve.
“We haven’t heard anything at all. Not a word,” said Rodriguez, who has been watching various Spanish-language news sources for information. "All we can do now is get ready, pray and wait."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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