The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years tore off roofs and doors, unleashed heavy flooding and brought down cell towers and power lines in an onslaught that could deepen the island's financial crisis.
Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm yesterday with winds of 250 km/h, and was expected to punish the US territory with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.
It was the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico felt the wrath of a hurricane.
As people waited it out in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms and closets, Maria slowly crossed the island, knocking down communication towers, snapping trees and unloading at least 20 inches of rain.
Widespread flooding was reported across the island, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighbourhoods and many streets turned into rivers.
People calling local radio stations reported that doors were being torn off their hinges and a water tank flew away.
About 90 per cent of customers were without power.
The storm threatened to ravage the island's already crumbling electrical grid and worsen its economic woes.
More than 11,000 people - and more than 580 pets - were in shelters, authorities said.
Felix Delgado, mayor of the city of Catano on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, told WAPA Television that 80 per cent of the homes in a neighbourhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed.
Previously a Category 5 with 281 km/h winds, Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the US, based on a key measurement that meteorologists use: air pressure. The lower the central pressure, the stronger a storm.
Maria's pressure was 917 millibars, lower than Hurricane Irma's 929 millibars when it roared into the Florida Keys earlier this month.
Maria killed two people in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, officials said.