Reports: Powerful Hurricane Maria bruises Turks and Caicos; Dam failure in Puerto Rico forces thousands to flee to safety

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, AccuWeather staff writer
September 22, 2017, 9:07:39 PM EDT

Widespread damage and power outages have been reported in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic following Hurricane Maria's destructive impacts.

Maria became the second Category 5 hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season but was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane shortly before making landfall in Puerto Rico around 6:15 a.m. AST Wednesday.

Maria is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since the San Ciprian hurricane in 1932.

The Turks and Caicos experienced the worst of the storm on Friday, but conditions across the islands are expected to improve into Saturday as Maria tracks to the north.

Dominica took a direct hit from Maria on Monday night shortly after it strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane. This is the first recorded Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Dominica. Tropical Storm Erika devastated the island just two years ago, killing at least 31 people.

Satellite imagery shows Hurricane Maria Friday night as it moves past the Turks and Caicos. (Image/NOAA)

Will the US East Coast escape a direct hit from Hurricane Maria?
Maria to threaten lives, property in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos
AccuWeather Hurricane Center

For previous reports on Maria, click here.

Evacuations are ongoing along the Guajataca River in Puerto Rico following a dam failure.

“People need to get as far as possible from the River area,” The National Weather Service in San Juan .

Flash Flood Warning for eastern Isabela & western Quebradillas until 2AM. Residents along Guajataca River seek higher ground now!

— NWS San Juan (@NWSSanJuan)

All of Puerto Rico remains without power and it may take months before power is restored to everyone. The Energy Department is already working to restore power to everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands one step at a time.

As of 6:30 p.m. AST Friday, a flash flood emergency was still in effect in the Isabella municipality of Puerto Rico due to an imminent dam failure.

Officials estimate that 50,000 to 70,000 people may need to be evacuated in the area downstream of the Guajataca Dam, according to the Associated Press. It is unclear how much time residents have to evacuate before the dam completely fails.

Over a foot of rain fell in areas around the dam as Hurricane Maria battered the island. The Puerto Rican government concluded on Friday that the 90-year-old dam was actually beginning to fail.

Hurricane Maria has damaged parts of Puerto Rico's iconic Arecibo Observatory, the home to the world's second-largest radio telescope.

The antenna that is suspended above the telescope's 1,000-foot dish was lost during the hurricane with falling debris puncturing the dish in several places, the Universities Space Research Association said on Friday.

Damage is still being assessed at the observatory and it is unclear when normal observations will be able to be resumed.

The Arecibo Observatory sustained serious damage during Hurricane Maria. The pointy object protruding downward from the suspended platform is a 96-foot (29-meter) antenna that broke off during the hurricane, puncturing the telescope dish below. Credit: Pedrik/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

At 2:15 p.m. AST Friday, the National Weather Service in San Juan issued a flash flood emergency due to a dam failure in northwestern Puerto Rico.

"Dam operators reported the Guajataca Dam is failing causing flash flooding downstream on the Rio Guajataca. Busses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can," the NWS said on Twitter.

This is an extremely dangerous situation. People downstream of the Guajataca Dam need to evacuate immediately.

215PM FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY for A Dam Failure in Isabela Municipality y Quebradillas Municipality in Puerto Rico...

— NWS San Juan (@NWSSanJuan)

Ocean waters receded along Long Shore Beach in the Turks and Caicos early Friday morning as Maria approached the islands. This is similar to what happened when Irma was tracking up the coast of Florida earlier this month.

View of the absent sea, looking at Shore Club, Long Bay (don't worry, it will be back). #TurksAndCaicos

— Lynne Watts (@lynnewatts)

The footage below from Destination Turks and Caicos shows rough surf along Sapodilla Bay Beach.

Happening now on our famous Sapodilla Bay Beach. #hurricane #maria #turksandcaicos #2017

A post shared by Destination Turks and Caicos (@destination_turksandcaicos) on Sep 22, 2017 at 8:06am PDT

The National Hurricane Center reports as of 11 a.m. EDT that Maria is still producing 125-mph winds as it passes northeast of the Turks and Caicos. Maria is now located about 55 miles north of Grand Turk Island and remains a Category 3 storm.

According to , a radio station in Puerto Rico, the municipality of Arecibo is reporting serious damage due to landslides. Homes have been destroyed while two hospitals suffered severe damage.

maintains 125 mph winds over Turks & Caicos. Check out this view of the #hurricane's eye, see more images @

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites)

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello is urging following the destructive impacts of Maria.

According to a report from the The New Day newspaper, the Puerto Rican government has confirmed six fatalities from Maria.

Aid from Fema is expected to be delivered from military planes today as flood warnings continue for the entire island.

9/22/17: Flash Flood warning for NE Puerto Rico, Flood Warning for the remainder of the island. Small Craft Advisory for all waters today

— NWS San Juan (@NWSSanJuan)

FEMA confirma que hoy llegan a San Juan aviones militares con suministros y ayuda de emergencia.

— José A. Delgado (@JoseADelgadoEND)

El gobierno de Puerto Rico ha confirmado seis muertes a causa del huracán María.

— José A. Delgado (@JoseADelgadoEND)

According to its 8 a.m. AST Friday update, the National Hurricane Center said hurricane conditions are occurring on the Turks and Caicos. Maria is currently about 30 miles north-northeast of Grand Turk Islands.

The Category 3 storm is packing winds up to 125 mph, and hurricane-force winds are extending up to 70 mph from its center.

A completely ruined house is seen in El Negro community a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017.

According to the National Hurricane Center's 5 a.m. update for Friday, Maria's eye is approaching the Turks and Caicos as torrential rain and dangerous waves begin to wane along the northern coast of Hispaniola. The storm is now about 35 miles from Grand Turk Island with sustained winds of 125 mph.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with torrential rain and powerful winds on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2017. (Photo/FB/Municipio de Canóvanas)

Following Maria's devastating destruction in Puerto Rico, most of the airports were ordered to close until at least Friday. The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, the island's largest airport, is the only one confirmed to open on Friday.

There are also preliminary reports of in a landslide.

Hurricane Maria continues to barrel through the northern Caribbean. As of 1:45 a.m. AST Friday, the eyewall is approaching the Turks and Caicos, heading northwest at a speed of 7 mph. Torrential rain and high waves are threatening the northern coast of Hispaniola as the storm moves away from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Maria is currently 45 miles southeast of Grand Turk Island. Sustained winds are measured at 125 mph as the storm remains a Category 3 hurricane.

Maria aftermath. Road collapsed on Northside. #usvi #stthomas #maria #hurricane

A post shared by Dan Beyer (@island.dan) on Sep 21, 2017 at 9:52pm PDT

San Juan struggles to initiate recovery efforts as communication, power & water are still scarce across the island. @CNN

— Jaide Garcia (@Jaide_Garcia)
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