Wednesday September 20, 2017

Veteran describes flooded streets and flying debris as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico

People walk on the street next to debris after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

People walk on the street next to debris after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guayama, Puerto Rico. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

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Story transcript

Juan Carlos Rodriguez was hunkered down in his Puerto Rican home with his friends and their children when Hurricane Maria made landfall on the Caribbean island early Wednesday morning.

"The electricity went out right away. And then maybe about 12 to 1 o'clock in the morning, that's when the wind kind of picked up greater speed," the retired military veteran told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Once that happened, he said, pieces of steel, trees and other debris started slamming against his house in the Rio Piedras region of San Juan.

"We had to try and stay calm as best as possible ... not trying to act kind of chaotic because of the kids and stuff like that, but it has been pretty scary so far," he said. "I've never seen a magnitude like this ever in my life."

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Hurricane Maria is pictured over Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea in this Sept. 20, 2017, NASA satellite handout photo. (NASA via Reuters)

Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years, tore off roofs and doors, knocked out power across the entire island and unleashed heavy flooding in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis.

Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Maria blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 250 kilometres per hour.

It was expected to punish the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.

2nd hurricane in 2 weeks

"It's kind of like very unsafe for us to actually even go outside to try see what is going on," Rodrguez said. "But there's been a lot of slamming of just debris everywhere."

It was the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico felt the wrath of a hurricane. There was no immediate word of any deaths or serious injuries.

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Damage and flooded streets are seen in Guayama, Puerto Rico. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Widespread flooding was reported, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighbourhoods and many streets turned into rivers.

"If I go outside and I look maybe 300 metres to the right, I'll be able to see another street where ... it looks like a lake. It looks like a river just passing through."

As of 2 p.m. ET, Maria had weakened to a Category 3, with winds of 185 km/h. 

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Rescue workers help a woman to get into the Emergency Operation Centre after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

While he waits for the rest of the storm to pass, Rodriguez said he's trying to keep the kids distracted from what's happening outside.

First, they watched TV set up to an electric generator. Once that ran out of juice, they moved on to homework. 

While he tries to keep his spirits up, he said it's hard to look out his window and see his home country in shambles.

"It kind of hits you pretty hard because you're not expecting to be at the point that we are in right now," he said.

"We've been in worse situations before ... and we've always been able to look to the bright side and be able to, you know, come together as an island and be able to push forward with what we have."

With files from Associated Press