SANTO DOMINGO – Hurricane Maria moved away from the Dominican Republic on Thursday after lashing the northeastern coast of the island of Hispaniola with powerful winds, intense rain and heavy waves, all of which have contributed to flooding in various parts of the country.
The eye of the storm, which passed about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of the eastern tourist city of Punta Cana, was located about 185 km northeast of Puerto Plata at 5 pm after moving parallel to the country’s northern coast.
Maria, which is presently a Category 3 hurricane that could now strengthen as it continues its route over open water, left at least one person missing in the Dominican Republic and is moving northwest at 15 kph, meaning that it is heading toward the Turks & Caicos archipelago and the eastern Bahamas, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center reported on Thursday.
On its passage along the Dominican Republic’s northeastern coast, the heavy rain and wind, with gusts exceeding 110 kph, ripped roofs off of some homes, and downed trees and power poles, leaving more than 300,000 Dominicans without electricity.
The storm forced the evacuation of more than 14,000 people, damaged at least 1,286 houses and a bridge and cut off communications with 15 towns, according to the Emergency Operations Center (COE), which is keeping 23 provinces on the maximum red alert, four on yellow alert and five others on green alert, even though the storm is moving away from the island.
So far, the most intense rain has been registered at Punta Cana and other eastern locations, including Samana and Santiago, the latter being the country’s second-largest city.
In the town of Higuey, in La Altagracia province, a river overflowed, flooding several streets, EFE confirmed.
Authorities say that most areas will experience total rainfall of between 150 and 300 mm (6-12 inches), with some locations receiving up to 500 mm (20 inches) and “big and destructive” waves of between 1.2-1.8 meters (4-6 feet) in height are expected from Cape Engaño near Punta Cana to Puerto Plata, the NHC said.
A number of international flights to and from the Dominican Republic were delayed because of the storm and more than 70 were cancelled altogether.
Some 4,000 tourists who had been staying in hotels in Punta Cana were relocated to the Dominican capital as a preventive measure, given that tourism is the main source of foreign income for the Caribbean nation.
Authorities responded to the hurricane by canceling the work day in both the public and private sectors and closing schools on Thursday.
More than 3,700 people are being housed in official shelters and more than 6,200 are riding out the storm and its aftermath at the homes of family and friends.
After striking the Turks & Caicos and The Bahamas, Maria – which poses no immediate threat to the US mainland – is projected to move in a northerly direction and stay out at sea.