From the Field

Hurricane Maria: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

Puerto Rico is devastated and struggling to recover after Hurricane Maria pummeled the territory Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm. Most of the island is still without power as food and water supplies get low, generators run out of fuel, flights in and out are extremely limited, hospitals are damaged, temporary housing is in shortage, and people struggle to access their bank accounts. World Vision is there responding and helping people in more remote areas.

Maria — the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years — destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island, and triggered heavy flooding.

Puerto Rico is “essentially devastated,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told the Washington Post Sept. 26. “Complete destruction of the power infrastructure, severe destruction of the housing infrastructure, food and water are needed.”

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria hit numerous islands in the Caribbean. Previously a Category 5 with 175-mph winds, Maria weakened to a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of 110 mph Wednesday, Sept. 20, after barreling through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 with winds up to 155 mph. Maria dissipated within a week off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Here’s what you need to know about the catastrophic storm.

How did Hurricane Maria develop?

Maria formed as a tropical storm Saturday, Sept. 16, in the western Atlantic Ocean.

It became a Category 3 storm Monday, Sept. 18, after doubling in strength in just 24 hours. Then it maintained its rapid growth, becoming a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph Tuesday, Sept. 19, after making its way through the Leeward Islands.

It smashed into the Caribbean island of Dominica, causing what the prime minister called “mind-boggling” devastation in a region already devastated by Hurricane Irma. Maria is now the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in Dominica. Hartley Henry, an adviser to the prime minister, says the country is “in a daze,” with no electricity and little to no communications.

The French island of Martinique escaped Hurricane Maria largely unscathed, while 40 percent of the French island of Guadeloupe was without power.

Maria then directly hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 with 155-mph winds, making it the third-strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S. It was even stronger than Hurricane Irma when it roared into the Florida Keys Sept. 10.

Puerto Rico hadn’t seen an intense hurricane in quite some time. Before Hurricane Irma, only four other Category 4 storms had tracked within 75 miles of the central part of the island. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 was the last to do so up until Irma passed earlier this month.

Maria also hit the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Turks and Caicos, causing widespread flooding.

At its peak, Hurricane Maria was a devastating Category 5 with 175 mph winds.
At its peak, Hurricane Maria was a devastating Category 5 with 175-mph winds. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

Did Hurricane Maria hit the U.S.?

The U.S. mainland spared the wrath of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Jose, which followed a similar path before fizzling out in the open ocean.

How much damage did Hurricane Maria cause?

An arial view shows flooding in Palo Verde, Montecristi province, Dominican Republic from Sept. 23, 2017. Palo Verde is rice plantation area, vulnerable for flooding. (©2017 World Vision)
An arial view shows flooding in Palo Verde, Montecristi province, Dominican Republic from Sept. 23, 2017. Palo Verde is a rice plantation area vulnerable for flooding. (©2017 World Vision)

Hurricane Maria left at least 48 people dead across the Caribbean, with the majority from the island of Dominica.

Maria has been devastating to Puerto Rico and many smaller Caribbean islands. The storm knocked out power to most of Puerto Rico and destroyed its weather-monitoring systems. After nearly two weeks, airports once again opened, but many residents are still without power, and many are at risk of death as food and water supplies run low. Other people who are on oxygen tanks or dialysis treatments are also at risk as generators run out of diesel. 

“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” said Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano.

Currently, Puerto Ricans lack basic necessities, including food and clean drinking water, and assessments indicate island could have no electricity for many months. Many residents have no safe housing as structures have been damaged by downed trees and power lines. Hospitals and other public buildings also remain badly damaged and flooded. There is a lack of temporary housing, placing residents at greater risk of disease, such as dengue fever or other mosquito-borne ailments. The two main elements of Puerto Rico’s economy, agriculture and tourism, have been devastated by the storm. The island’s entire population of 3.1 million people has been affected by Hurricane Maria.

Maria also caused widespread flooding in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

How is World Vision responding?

World Vision initiated its response on the ground in Puerto Rico, supported by a global rapid response team. Due to the scale of the need in Puerto Rico, World Vision deployed two teams to connect with local partners and networks, such as Urban Strategies and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Working with local partners strengthens our program implementation in Puerto Rico.

On Monday Oct. 2, the initial response team began conducting assessments and providing local partners with support logistics near San Juan and in a hard-hit area on the central-eastern side of the island to make way for distributions, cash programming, and program management. The initial response will include distributing food, clean-up kits, and hygiene kits, as well establishing Child-Friendly Spaces and water, sanitation, and hygiene work.

“The biggest operational challenge is lack of electricity, limited cell phone coverage, and long lines for gas,” said Mike Weickert, a member of World Vision’s response team, which arrived in Puerto Rico Friday, Sept. 29.

As of Oct. 16, we’ve helped 313 households in the Utuado area by providing food and water. We’ve also provided tarps and hygiene kits to about 255 households in that area. We’re continuing to conduct assessments of communities and providing help by partnering with local churches. Another shipment of supplies should arrive the weekend of Oct. 21-22, and we hope to scale up our water, sanitation, and hygiene response work in Puerto Rico.

World Vision staff in the Dominican Republic are working to help more than 9,700 people that are displaced from their homes, including nearly 3,100 children, in the Miches and Santa Cruz El Seibo areas. Most have lost everything due to flooding in the wake of Maria. World Vision has been distributing hygiene kits and food kits. The main needs are the lack of clean water, hygiene and cleaning products, mattresses, and school supplies and uniforms so children can return to school. World Vision is coordinating with community leaders and authorities to prevent abuses of children in the emergency area as well.

How can I help victims of Hurricane Maria?

  • Consider helping us continue the flow of emergency supplies by donating to World Vision’s Hurricane Maria disaster relief fund.
  • Join us in praying for people as people begin to recover: Almighty Father, we ask for Your mercy on those suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Protect people. Guide aid workers and emergency responders as they work to help those in need.


Contributor: Heather Klinger, Chris Huber, World Vision staff.

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