Broken dam and island-wide blackout stir fear in Puerto Rico

El Negro community resident Irma Torres Rodriguez tries to stay calm after loosing a portion of her roof to the fury of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

By DANICA COTO

Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A failing dam prompted emergency evacuations of two towns in northwestern Puerto Rico on Friday as the U.S. territory struggled with flooding, an island-wide blackout and other dangers in Hurricane Maria’s wake.

The National Weather Service in San Juan said the municipalities of Isabela and Quebradillas, home to some 70,000 people, were being evacuated with buses because of a crack in the Guajataca Dam.

The 345-yard dam holds back a manmade lake covering about 2 square miles and was built decades ago.

The operators of the dam reported that the failure was causing flash-flooding downstream, the weather service said.

The government called the situation “extremely dangerous.”

Communications to outlying areas of the island have been hampered by the storm.

“It’s a structural failure. I don’t have any more details,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said from the capital, San Juan. “We’re trying to evacuate as many people as possible”

Meanwhile, all across the battered island, anxious residents feared power could be out for weeks — or even months — and wondered how they would cope.

Some of the island’s 3.4 million people planned to head to the U.S. to temporarily escape the desolation. At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: Additional rain — up to 6 inches — is expected through today.

In San Juan, Neida Febus wandered around her neighborhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to the hungry. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn’t think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.

“This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other,” she said.

The death toll in Puerto Rico stood at six but was likely to rise.

At least 27 lives in all have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica. Haiti reported three deaths; Guadeloupe, two; and the Dominican Republic, one.

By Friday afternoon, Maria was passing northeast of the Turks and Caicos with winds of 125 mph. A hurricane warning remained in effect for those islands as well as the southeastern Bahamas. The storm is not expected to pose a threat to the U.S. mainland.

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