70,000 People Evacuated in Puerto Rico as Dam Fails and Unleashes ‘Extremely Dangerous’ Floods

Hurricane Maria was the second major hurricane to hit the Caribbean this month and the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years. Photograph: Helene Valenzuela/AFP/Getty Images

Officials are rushing to evacuate tens of thousands of people from their homes in western Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria inflicted structural damage on a dam and unleashed “extremely dangerous” flash floods.

Some 70,000 residents in the municipalities of Isabela and Quebradillas were being evacuated by bus after a crack appeared in the nearly 90-year old Guajataca dam.

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

“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION. Buses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can,” the US National Weather Service tweeted on Friday .

In a later message, the NWS tweeted: “All Areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW. Their lives are in DANGER! Please SHARE!”

More than 15in (nearly 40cm) of rain has fallen on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca dam, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam, which holds back a manmade lake covering about two square miles (five square kilometres).

An engineer inspecting the dam reported a “contained breach” that officials quickly realized was a crack and could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service.

“There’s no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast, because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation,” Reynes said.

“They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can, but it’s not easy. We really don’t know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam.”

The scale of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria is only just beginning to emerge, partly because communications to outlying areas of the island were severely hampered by the storm.

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SOURCE: The Guardian