Tens of thousands of people in storm-scarred Puerto Rico have been ordered to evacuate their homes Friday afternoon as a major dam in the northwestern part of the island was determined to be on the verge of collapse.

Floodwaters from Hurricane Maria have left the Guajataca Dam under extreme stress in the aftermath of the storm, leading the National Weather Service to say that it is in “imminent” danger of failing, according to The Washington Post.


“This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION,” the National Weather Service wrote. “All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER.”

The dam, built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1929, suffered a “fissure,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a news conference Friday. An estimated 70,000 people in the municipalities of Quebradillas, Isabela and part of San Sebastian could be affected if the dam collapses, he said. A failure would likely send a massive amount of water from an inland lake along the Guajataca River, which flows north through coastal communities toward the ocean.

“To those citizens (of those areas) who are listening: Please evacuate,” Rosselló said. “We want your life to be protected…Please, if you’re listening, the time to evacuate is now.”

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Many who live near the dam are being evacuated by buses.


The situation adds a new urgency in Puerto Rico as officials here survey the wreckage left by Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to strike the island in more than 80 years.

Fox News reports that the 345-yard dam, which was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1929, holds back a man-made lake covering about 2 square miles.

An engineer inspecting the dam reported a “contained breach” that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

“There’s no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation,” Reynes said. “They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can but it’s not easy. We really don’t know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam.”

The Guajataca dam had suffered damage to its “structural integrity,” according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. It is estimated that 70,000 people in the municipalities of Quebradillas, Isabela and San Sebastien could be affected if the dam collapses.

Authorities reported at least six fatalities, three of which occurred in the municipality of Utuado as a result of mud slides. Two people died in flooding in Toa Baja, and one other person died in Bayamón when a panel struck him in the head, the U.S. territory’s public safety department said in a statement. More deaths are likely to be reported in the coming hours and days, officials said.

“We are aware of other reports of fatalities that have transpired by unofficial means, but we cannot confirm them,” said the secretary of the department of public safety, Héctor M. Pesquera.

Authorities have been hampered in their ability to assess damage because foul weather continued to batter parts of the island early Friday. The storm also knocked out power to the entire island and left only 15 percent of the territory’s 1,600 telecommunications towers functional, officials said. Of the island’s fiber cables, up to 85% are damaged.

President Donald Trump has pledged to visit Puerto Rico, saying it was “totally obliterated” by the storm.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved.

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