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Hurricane Maria Churns Past Turks and Caicos After Ravaging Puerto Rico

The storm was expected to weaken over the next two days.
Image: South Caicos prepares itself for Hurricane Maria
South Caicos prepares itself for Hurricane Maria, 18 Sept. 2017.Corporal Darren Legg / EPA
/ Source: Associated Press

Hurricane warnings for the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the Bahamas were downgraded to tropical storm warnings Friday afternoon as Hurricane Maria was moving past, while millions of people in Puerto Rico continued to struggle with rebounding from the deadly and destructive storm.

As of 5 p.m. ET, Maria was passing to the east of the southeastern Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was about 115 miles east southeastern Bahamas with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph, and it is expected to weaken over the next 48 hours, the hurricane center said.

Tropical storm conditions were still expected in parts of the central Bahamas Friday night, and rainfall on the islands could produce life-threatening floods.

South Caicos prepares itself for Hurricane Maria.Corporal Darren Legg / EPA

Maria wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico, demolishing structures and knocking out all electricity. It could take half a year to restore power to the nearly 3.5 million people who live there, officials said.

The storm has been blamed for the deaths of more than 20 people. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Friday that seven deaths on the island have been certified, but said earlier in an interview with CNN that preliminary assessments indicated 13 were killed.

But many fear that toll could climb as authorities were beginning to assess the extent of the damage and search for survivors.

With fierce winds and unrelenting rain, Maria toppled trees, shattered windows, and ripped roofs and doors off homes across the economically strained U.S. territory. It turned roads into raging rivers, deluging everything in sight.

Related: Puerto Ricans Face Devastated Landscape: 'Nothing Can Prepare You for This'

San Juan resident Heidi Roque, 21, said the storm pulverized her home, shattering windows and mangling fences.

"I fear Puerto Rico won't be the same when this is over — not after this storm," Roque said, choking back tears. "This is the first time our family was faced with something so monstrous. We didn't know how to react."

For many islanders, the thought of months without electricity was worrisome.

"You cannot live here without power," Hector Llanos told The Associated Press. Llanos, a 78-year-old retired New York police officer, said he planned to head for the U.S. mainland Saturday to live there temporarily.

"The only thing I have is a flashlight," he told the AP, shaking his head. "This is never going to return to normal."

President Donald Trump has approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.

Before the storm even hit, Puerto Rico was reeling from years of financial turmoil. Its debt crisis crippled agencies, including the state power company, and infrastructure had been neglected.

Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm near the town of Yabucoa just after 6 a.m. ET Wednesday.