Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico after Causing Deaths, Damage in Smaller Islands

A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico after Causing Deaths, Damage in Smaller Islands

A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A man covers the windows of a supermarket in preparation for Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Maria, one of the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico, pummeled the island Wednesday after leaving at least two people dead in the French territory of Guadeloupe and causing major damage in Dominica.

Maria made landfall early Wednesday in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph (250 kph) winds, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.

Zinc roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as the storm approached before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance. 

"The wind sounds like a woman screaming at the top of her lungs!" photographer and storm chaser Mike Theiss posted on Twitter early Wednesday.

Maria ties for the eighth strongest storm in Atlantic history, when measured by wind speed. Coming in second is this year's Irma, which had 185 mph (300 kph) winds and killed 38 people in the Caribbean and another 36 in the US earlier this month.

Maria killed one person by a falling tree while another died on the seafront in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Two people aboard a boat were also reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, officials said.

About 40 percent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.

In Dominica, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page, including that his own roof had blown away.

"The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God," Skerrit wrote before communications went down.

The storm knocked out communications for the entire island, leaving anyone outside Dominica struggling to determine the extent of damage, though it was clearly widespread. "The situation is really grave," Consul General Barbara Dailey said in a telephone interview from New York.

She said she lost contact with the island about 4 a.m. At that point, officials had learned that 70 percent of homes had lost their roofs, including her own.



Greece Denies New Report of Brutality to Migrants

Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
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Greece Denies New Report of Brutality to Migrants

Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)
Migrants arrive with a dinghy accompanied by a Frontex vessel at the village of Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean Sea from Türkiye, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP)

Greece on Monday denied a new report that accused its coast guard of brutally preventing migrants from reaching Greek shores, which also alleged that the practice had resulted in dozens of deaths.

A BBC report said it had been ascertained that 43 migrants drowned — including nine who were thrown into the water — in 15 incidents off Greece's eastern Aegean Sea islands in 2020-2023. It cited interviews with eyewitnesses, following reports from media, charities and the Turkish coast guard.

Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis insisted that there was no evidence to support the allegations.

“Our understanding is that what is reported is not proved,” he told a regular press briefing when asked about the claims. “Every complaint is looked into, and in the end, the relevant findings are made public.”

Greece is a major gateway for migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia seeking a better life in the affluent European Union. Thousands slip into the country every year, mostly in small boats from neighboring Türkiye. Relations with Türkiye are often tense, and the two countries' coast guards have repeatedly traded accusations of mistreating migrants.

Migrant charities and human rights groups have repeatedly accused Greece's coast guard and police of illegally preventing arriving migrants from seeking asylum by surreptitiously returning them to Turkish waters. Greece has angrily denied that, arguing its border forces have saved hundreds of thousands of migrants from sinking boats.

The country's reputation took a further knock in June 2023, when a battered fishing vessel with an estimated 750 people on board sank off southwestern Greece. Only 104 people survived, despite the Greek coast guard having shadowed the vessel for hours, and survivors claimed the trawler sank after a botched attempt by the coast guard to tow it. Greek authorities again denied these allegations.

The new BBC report included a claim by a Cameroonian man that he and two other migrants were picked up by masked men, including policemen, just after landing on the island of Samos.

The man claimed all three were put in a coast guard boat and thrown into the sea, and that the other two men drowned as a result.

The report also quoted a Syrian man who said he was part of a group picked up at sea by the Greek coast guard off Rhodes. He said the survivors were put in life rafts and left adrift in Turkish waters, where several died after one life raft sank before the Turkish coast guard came to pick them up.

Marinakis said “it is wrong to target” the Greek coast guard. “In any case, we monitor every report and investigation, but I repeat: What is mentioned (in the BBC report) is in no case backed up by evidence,” he said.