Dam in Puerto Rico fails; towns evacuated

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A failing dam prompted emergency evacuations of two towns in northwest Puerto Rico on Friday as the U.S. territory struggled with flooding, an island-wide power blackout and other dangers in Hurricane Maria's wake.

The National Weather Service in San Juan said Friday that the northwestern municipalities of Isabela and Quebradillas, home to some 70,000 people, were being evacuated with buses because the nearby Guajataca Dam was failing. Details remained sketchy about the evacuation with communications hampered after the storm. The 345-yard (316-meter) dam holds back a manmade lake covering about 2 square miles and was built decades ago, U.S. government records show.

All across the battered island, residents feared power could be out for weeks — or even months — and wondered how they would cope. Some of the island's 3.4 million residents planned to head to the U.S. to temporarily escape the desolation. At least in the short term, though, the soggy misery will continue: additional rain — up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) — is expected through Saturday.

In San Juan, Neida Febus wandered around her neighborhood with bowls of cooked rice, ground meat and avocado, offering food to anyone in need. The damage was so extensive, the 64-year-old retiree said, that she didn't think the power would be turned back on until Christmas.
"This storm crushed us from one end of the island to the other," she said.

The death toll in Puerto Rico stood at six but was likely to rise. At least 27 lives have been lost around the Caribbean, including at least 15 people killed on hard-hit Dominica. Other islands reporting deaths were Haiti with three; Guadeloupe, two; and Dominican Republic, one.

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