Hurricane Maria rages on as Caribbean residents attempt to pick up their lives

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — After devastating the US territory of Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria is tracking toward the Turks and Caicos Islands, and beyond that, the stretched out island chain of the Bahamas.

As the storm continues to inch towards the Turks and Caicos, also known as TCI, it’s already lashing the small archipelago with winds of over 124 mph (200 kmh).

It’s expected to pass the islands with about 50 miles (80 kilometers) to spare, still close enough to dump around 40 inches (100 centimeters) of rain on the islands.

The “TCI are already feeling the impact” of the storm, although it looks like it won’t make landfall, CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis said.

Maginnis says that the islands, along with the Bahamas, should expect continued heavy downpours, as well as a potential storm surge of around nine to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters).

Maria has been downgraded from the Category 5 storm which left the island nation of Dominica, along with Puerto Rico, inundated and completely without power. It’s now a Category 3 storm and Hurricane Warnings have been issued for TCI, the Bahamas and the northeastern shore of the Dominican Republic.

The giant storm’s deadly toll is beginning to mount. At least 14 are confirmed dead on Dominica, and dozens more are missing. Eight people, including a family of four, drowned in the Puerto Rico city of Toa Baja, according to local media.

Over the coming days, the storm is forecast to pitch out over the open waters of the Atlantic, traveling north but it’s unlikely to have much effect on the US’ eastern coast.

Death, destruction

Parts of the Caribbean which Maria has already passed over are still coming to terms with the extent of their losses.

CNN’s Michael Holmes, who is on the devastated island of Dominica, says that almost all trees from this lush, rainforested paradise have been completely denuded, leaving a stark, brown landscape in its place.

Aid had been stockpiled in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, the storm which preceded Maria by only a matter of days, but was distributed to neighboring islands after Dominica appeared to have avoided the worst of it. Then came Maria.

And in Puerto Rico, the US territory which was the hurricane’s next landfall, every inch of the territory has been impacted in one way or another.

US President Donald Trump has pledged aid — and a visit — to the beleaguered island.

“Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated … with winds, they say, they’ve never seen winds like this anywhere,” he said.

As many as 4,500 Army reservists have been brought in to complement the Puerto Rican National Guard, says Brig. Gen. Dustin Shultz, who is commanding the reserves in the Caribbean during the rescue effort.

“The reality is that the damage will not be known for months in its entirety, until we can really get about and see all the different levels of damage. You’re talking massive destruction … Communications are virtually nonexistent throughout the island right now,” she told CNN.

“The biggest need is to get the ports and airports open again and I’ve been told that it’s likely that at least for military and support the airport might be open again tomorrow (Friday) so we can get the fuel pumping again and the goods and services that are needed to make sure that people have basic necessities.”

‘Messed up organization’

Across Puerto Rico, CNN correspondents surveyed the damage.

In San Juan, the Ashford Presbyterian hospital, like many other buildings, had suffered damage — part of life in the “hurricane corridor,” planning director Margo Silva told correspondent Nick Valenica.

“We’re used to dealing with this. Unfortunately being so close to the ocean, these circumstances come up.”

The air conditioning had failed, meaning patients, like 103-year-old Diosa Alarondo was suffering in the heat.

She’s been here for two months and her daughter, Jacqueline Alarondo was distressed. Water only arrived Thursday afternoon, she said. “It was bad, messed up organization from the administration.”

But another patient, Ana Rivera, said it might have been the best place to ride out the storm. The food comes on time, and they’ve been treating her well, she confirmed.

Ten miles west of the capital, CNN’s Leyla Santiago met residents trudging though floodwaters to reach their homes — many of which no longer had roofs.

Sylvia Colon fought back tears as firefighters and the national guard reached her 84-year-old neighbor, refusing to leave the woman who she says is like a grandmother to her.

One teenager, 16-year-old Marytere, had to cross floods with her family, clutching their small dogs, along with bags filled with food, toiletries and pillows, to reach the rescue team.

They left to find help when the water got too high. “I’m scared of what’s going to happen now to us,” she said, wiping away tears.

“What’s the family going to do now?”