• HURRICANE TRACKER: Maria weakens to Category 1; evacuations set for Ocracoke Island

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    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Maria has weakened as it moves northward, but it's still likely to bring increasing swells and high surf to the Southeastern U.S. coast.

    Maria, which walloped Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane last week, is now a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph.

    The Hurricane Center says it was centered about 400 miles (765 kilometers) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina before noon Sunday.

    It said people along the Carolina and Mid-Atlantic coasts should monitor the storm.

    Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the North Carolina coast from Surf City, North Carolina to the North Carolina/Virginia border.

    Red flags litter along North Carolina's coast advising beach-goers that there is no swimming in the ocean.

    Several flags were spotted this weekend in Nags Head, North Carolina ahead of Maria's arrival.

    A mandatory evacuation has been ordered for all visitors on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, effective Monday at 5 a.m., Hyde County officials say.

    Forecasters say Hurricane Maria is causing dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the U.S. after the storm devastated Puerto Rico.

    The death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is now at least 10.

    That number includes two police officers who drowned in floodwaters in the western town of Aguada. The number of deaths is expected to climb as officials from remote towns continue to check in with officials in San Juan.

    Authorities in the town of Vega Alta on the north coast said Saturday they had been unable to reach an entire neighborhood called Fatima, and were particularly worried about residents of a nursing home.

    Officials say the humanitarian crisis is growing as towns are left without fresh water, fuel, power or phone service.

    Puerto Rican authorities are scrambling to evacuate as many as 70,000 people who are downstream of a failing dam.

    More than 15 inches of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

    Authorities launched an evacuation of tens of thousands of people living downstream, sending buses to move people away and sending frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area. Officials say between 50,000 and 70,000 people may need to be evacuated.

    The national weather service first learned of a "contained breach" during a Friday afternoon inspection. The Puerto Rican government confirmed it is more than a fissure, and concluded that the dam is actually failing.

    Officials say they don't know how much time residents have to evacuate.

    Puerto Rico faces weeks without power after Maria

    The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm's devastation.

    Two days after Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, flooding towns, crushing homes and killing at least two people, millions on the island faced the dispiriting prospect of weeks and perhaps months without electricity. The storm knocked out the entire grid across the U.S. territory of 3.4 million, leaving many without power.

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    The loss of power left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some contemplated leaving the island.

    "You cannot live here without power," said Hector Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer who planned to leave Saturday for the U.S. mainland to live there temporarily.

    Like many Puerto Ricans, Llanos does not have a generator or gas stove. "The only thing I have is a flashlight," he said, shaking his head. "This is never going to return to normal."

    Maria's death toll across the Caribbean, meanwhile, climbed to at least 19, nearly all of them on the hard-hit island of Dominica. In Puerto Rico, the government said at least two were killed but media on the island were reporting additional deaths and the actual toll appeared unlikely to be known for days.

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    As of Friday morning, Maria was moving toward the Turks and Caicos with winds of 125 mph (205 kph). The storm was expected to move near or just east of the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas on Friday. From there, it is expected to veer into the open Atlantic, no threat to the U.S. mainland.

    In Puerto Rico, the grid was in sorry shape long before Maria - and Hurricane Irma two weeks ago - struck.

    The territory's $73 billion debt crisis has left agencies like the state power company broke. It abandoned most basic maintenance in recent years, leaving the island subject to regular blackouts.

    "We knew this was going to happen given the vulnerable infrastructure," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.

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    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would open an air bridge from the mainland on Friday, with three to four military planes flying to the island every day carrying water, food, generators and temporary shelters.

    "There's a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico," Rossello said. "This is an event without precedent."

     

     

    He said his administration was trying to open ports soon to receive shipments of food, water, generators, cots and other supplies.

    The government has hired 56 small contractors to clear trees and put up new power lines and poles and will be sending tanker trucks to supply neighborhoods as they run out of water. The entire island has been declared a federal disaster zone.

    Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, a utility industry group that is sending repair crews into the Caribbean, refused to speculate on how long it would take to restore power in Puerto Rico.

    "Let's see what the facts tell us by the end of the weekend," he said. But he acknowledged: "This is going to be a tall lift."

     

     

    Maribel Montilla already had two large barrels filled with water but worried about how long it would last for her, her daughter, her son-in-law and six grandchildren.

    "You know what I think? We're going to be without power for six months now," she said.

    Cellphone and internet service collapsed in much of Puerto Rico. The only radio station that remained on the air during the hurricane - WAPA 680 AM - was relaying messages to help connect friends and families.

    Other concerns were more prosaic. Across the street, someone yelled at a neighbor, "Listen, do you have Netflix?!"

    Jaime Rullan, a sports commentator, has a gas stove at home but tried not to think about the lack of air conditioning on an island where the heat index has surpassed 100 degrees (37 Celsius) in recent days.

    "We're used to the lights going out because of storms here in Puerto Rico, but this time, we're worried," he said. "We should prepare ourselves mentally to be at least a month without power."

    Deysi Rodriguez, a 46-year-old caretaker for elderly people, does not have a gas stove. And unlike others who have been lining up at the few fast-food restaurants that have reopened, Rodriguez is a diabetic and has to be more careful about what she eats.

    Rodriguez said she might temporarily move to New Jersey if the situation gets worse.

    Pedro Cartagena, a 57-year-old dock supervisor, said he planned to shower, eat and sleep at his company's office. He plans to buy food at the few restaurants that are open and operating on generators.

    "That's going to drain my bank account," he said, "but if I want to eat, that's my only option."

    In an upscale neighborhood in San Juan, 69-year-old retiree Annie Mattei's condominium has a generator. But she said maintenance will shut it off between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to save fuel.

    "This has been devastating," she said as her eyes welled with tears.

    In the Dominican Republican, Maria knocked down trees and power lines. But Joel Santos, president of the country's hotel association, said the hurricane did not damage the tourism infrastructure, even though it passed close to Punta Cana, the major resort area on the eastern tip of the island.

    In Dominica, where Maria laid waste to hundreds of homes and was blamed for at least 15 deaths, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wept as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua.

    "It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths," he said. He added: "Dominica is going to need all the help the world has to offer."

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