Hurricane Maria floods Dominican Republic after cutting off power to Puerto Rico; at least 17 killed

Hurricane Maria floods Dominican Republic after cutting off power to Puerto Rico; at least 17 killed

Hurricane Maria floods Dominican Republic after cutting off power to Puerto Rico; at least 17 killed

Updated 22 September 2017, 5:35 AEST

Deadly Hurricane Maria floods the Dominican Republic after pummelling Puerto Rico with severe flooding and cutting off power to the entire island.

Deadly Hurricane Maria has flooded parts of the Dominican Republic while grazing past it after directly hitting Puerto Rico causing severe flooding and cutting off power to the entire island.

Key points:

  • Hurricane Maria has killed at least 17 people throughout the Caribbean
  • Puerto Rico and Dominica are left completely destroyed as authorities assess damage
  • It is now heading away from the Dominican Republic, and no longer expected to hit US

The second major hurricane to rage through the Caribbean this month, Maria has killed at least 17 people and devastated several small islands, including St Croix and the US Virgin Islands.

Overnight, Maria was heading north-west away from the Dominican Republic carrying sustained winds of up to 195 kilometres per hour on a track that would take it near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the south-eastern Bahamas by Friday, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

It was ranked a category four storm, near the top of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour, when it made landfall on Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years.

The powerful hurricane ripped apart homes, snapped power lines, and turned roads into raging debris-laden rivers as it cut across the island of 3.4 million people.

Officials in Puerto Rico were still assessing the extent of the damage, while US President Donald Trump told reporters the storm "totally obliterated" the island.

In Old San Juan, Plaza de Colon — one of the grand squares adorning the colonial heart of the capital — was choked with broken branches and trees felled by the storm.

Aiden Short, 28, a debris management worker from London, said he had headed to the British Virgin Islands to help clean up the devastation of Hurricane Irma when Maria trapped him in San Juan.

"I was supposed to have come as a professional, but now I've just had to weather the storm," Mr Short said.

"But now it looks like I might be useful here."

All of Puerto Rico was under a flash flood warning early on Thursday as the tail end of the storm could bring another 10 to 20 centimetres of rain on Thursday, bringing the storm's total to 89 centimetres in parts of the island, the NHC said.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said there was one death reported so far, a man struck by a piece of lumber hurled by high winds.

"It's nothing short of a major disaster," he said in a CNN interview, adding it might take months for the island's electricity to be completely restored — he imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew that runs through Saturday.

Governments throughout Caribbean stunned by damaged

The Government did not yet have an estimate of how many homes and businesses were destroyed by the storm. But authorities expected to see more people go to shelters on Thursday as they realised how badly their homes were hit.

The island's recovery could be complicated by its financial woes as it faces the largest municipal debt crisis in US history. Both its government and the public utility have filed for bankruptcy protection amid disputes with creditors.

Maria was forecast to move north in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend. It currently looked unlikely to hit the continental United States.

It was a rare category-five storm when it struck Dominica on Monday night, damaging about 95 per cent of the roofs on the island of 73,000 people, one of the poorest in the Caribbean, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Passing early Wednesday just west of St Croix, home to about 55,000 people, Maria damaged an estimated 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the island's buildings, said Holland Redfield, who served six terms in the US Virgin Islands senate.

President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in the US Virgin Islands and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts, the White House said.

The US and British Virgin Islands were also hit this month by Hurricane Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record.

It left a trail of destruction in several Caribbean islands and Florida, killing at least 84 people.

Reuters