MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And we are once again tracking a whopper hurricane carving a path across the Caribbean. Hurricane Maria has already battered St. Croix, which was the only U.S. Virgin Island to have escaped the brunt of Hurricane Irma last week. Now winds and rain from Maria are battering Puerto Rico. LA Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske is there. She's in San Juan.
MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE: The winds have intensified where I am, near the waterfront in Old San Juan. You can hear them howling outside, banging the doors, which luckily are barricaded here, and they covered a lot of the windows. And this is just the beginning. We haven't even really got the full brunt of the force of the hurricane yet.
KELLY: The latest is that Maria has been downgraded slightly to a Category 4 storm, but it's still expected to be the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in decades. NPR's Greg Allen has been keeping tabs on the latest forecasts out of the National Hurricane Center, and he joins me now. Morning, Greg.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Morning.
KELLY: How are things shaping up for Puerto Rico?
ALLEN: Well, this is going to be a very difficult day for the island of Puerto Rico. We've got a major storm here which is hitting the island with winds around 155 mile per hour. And this is an island where it has pretty good building codes, but still you have some wood structures. They've been warning people to get out of them. This storm will travel across the entire island of Puerto Rico today from east to west bringing these hurricane-force winds to everybody there. Along with that, there's a lot of concern about the storm surge, a 69-foot storm surge, and the rainfall. There could be as much as 25 inches in some areas they're saying. And this is, as you know, is a mountainous area, Puerto Rico. So flood - flash-flooding and mudslides are a real potential there. And that's what some of the biggest concerns are about.
KELLY: And we're hearing that this storm may prove to be even more powerful than Irma? Is that right?
ALLEN: Yeah. I mean, the - Puerto Rico hasn't seen a storm this powerful in nearly 90 years, hitting as Category 4.
KELLY: Just hitting full-on.
ALLEN: Yes, exactly. And going east to - east to west. But governments has dire warnings out for people, warning those people to get out of their houses, to get to safer structures if they're in wooden homes or flimsy structures, they say. The public safety commissioner said you have to evacuate, otherwise, you're going to die. So there's as far - what, last time we heard, there's some 10,000 people and 500 shelters there. That's still a very small part of the country's population. But this hurricane - the one in 1928, the last one of this size killed more than 300 people and left a half-million people homeless. We think this will be less destructive than that, hopefully. But still the - the governor is saying this could be potentially catastrophic for Puerto Rico.
KELLY: So priority No. 1 today, protecting people, trying to save lives. And - second priority would have to be looking out for the infrastructure, trying to keep the power grid up and running. How's that looking?
ALLEN: Right, and that - you know, the power grid, as you know, took a big hit during Irma. I think there's still some 70,000 people out - without power there. But power's out for much - many more people today, we already know. The governor has been predicting a total collapse of the energy system in Puerto Rico as a result. This is a system that is actually not bad for the Caribbean, you know, compared with other islands there. But compared to the United States, it's very - it's aging in bad shape. And so the governor there is already working with FEMA to start planning the recovery, which they think will have to do with restarting and rebuilding this whole power authority, their whole power grid system there.
KELLY: So a lot on FEMA's plate to deal with. That's NPR's Greg Allen. He's in Miami, and he is tracking the hurricane. Thanks, Greg.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
KELLY: And if you have been affected by Hurricane Maria we would love to hear from you. Please let us know what is happening. You can email us. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can head over to our website. That's npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.