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Trump Says Puerto Rico 'Absolutely Obliterated' By Hurricane Maria, Approves Disaster Declaration

SAN JUAN (CBSNewYork/AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that Puerto Rico was "absolutely obliterated" by Hurricane Maria and said he plans to visit the island.

As CBS2's Cindy Hsu reported, the deadly storm was still churning in the Caribbean Thursday afternoon after leaving a path of destruction on the Isle of Enchantment.

Maria slammed into the U.S. territory Wednesday, crushing concrete balconies and paralyzing the island with landslides, flooding and downed trees.

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"It's in very, very, very perilous shape," Trump told reporters Thursday during a meeting with the president of Ukraine. "It's very sad what happened to Puerto Rico."

The president earlier Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, making federal funds available to people and cities on the island.

"Their electrical grid is totally destroyed and so many other things, so we're starting the process now," Trump said.

Trump also tweeted Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, saying: "We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe."

Trump has not yet specified when he plans to visit Puerto Rico.

Maria was the strongest storm to hit the island in more than 80 years.

On Thursday, Puerto Rico was in rescue and recovery mode. Survivors were without power and running water.

Crews in Puerto Rico began their rescues before dawn, one by one, bringing out the many still stranded in their badly damaged homes. Some of the areas hardest hit in Puerto Rico are barely recognizable. Officials say it could take months to rebuild.

Overnight, there was a sign of hope as the Puerto Rico National Guard made rescues. One man made it through waist deep water, and behind him, a little boy was carried on the back of a National Guardsman.

Gov. Rosselló was waiting for them as they were pulled to safety.

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Maria, which hit the island as a Category 4, completely knocked out the island's power grid -- so the only power is coming from generators and car batteries.

As of Thursday afternoon, one person was reported dead after being hit in the head with a wooden plank.

Meanwhile, a huge problem in getting help to where it's needed most is the lack of access from downed trees and power lines, making many roads impassable. There is also very little communication -- along with power, there is no cell phone service, and Rosselló said it may be months before electricity can be restored.

"The winds start to increase. We were very scared," Parrilla said. "The roof started falling like pieces."

The more than 3 million residents of the island were pummeled with life threatening winds of 155 mph. Windows were blown out of buildings and appliances ripped from walls.

Maria dumped about 20 inches of rain on the island, which was already suffering from the aftermath of hurricane Irma.

Meanwhile, Rosselló sent out a warning for anyone who thought the worst has passed. He says flooding and rain after a hurricane is what causes most deaths in these storms.

Desperation still spanned the island Thursday night, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported.

In one frantic scene that looked like it could have been from a movie, a frantic woman and two children waved for help – their overturned vessel just off the coast of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Coast Guard and the British Royal Navy came to their aid, lifting them to safety.

Police saved a 91-year-old man using a kayak. Meantime, the National Guard took in hundreds, packing them onto trucks.

People waded through feet of water as they carried whatever they could salvage.

"We're alive," one man said in Spanish. "We're healthy. We're alive. Thanks be to God."

At a shelter, people checked makeshift lists, looking for names of family members who are safe.

Janice Longoria has been looking for her 77-year-old aunt since Wednesday.

"She's an elderly person, so I don't know how she is," Longoria said. "It's hard."

Trump has also declared a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands, making federal funds available to people on the island of St. Croix. Maria pounded St. Croix and the island of Dominica before taking aim at Puerto Rico.

"The Virgin Islands are, I don't even have to say, all you have to do is take a look at the picture -- they are flattened," Trump said. "Areas around there have been flattened."

Here at home, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be headed to Puerto Rico on the first available flight to help with relief efforts.

Meanwhile, New York City is sending emergency responders to Puerto Rico and is encouraging other city workers to volunteer with island recovery efforts.

Rosselló on Thursday asked Cuomo for goods and services to aid in recovery efforts through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Cuomo's office said.

Thus, Cuomo will be heading to Puerto Rico as early as Friday morning along with specialists crucial to helping Puerto Rico restore its devastated power system, Cuomo's office said. In addition, New York will deliver numerous emergency supplies on a plane donated by JetBlue, Cuomo's office said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito discussed the efforts on Thursday. City workers will have to take vacation days or unpaid leave.

"In terms of air fare, we're working to either get donations of flights from the airlines or donors who will cover the flight cost," de Blasio said.

The city also is helping with fundraising.

Nine New York City police and firefighters stayed in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma. Another 27 responders will fly there when conditions allow. Emergency management personnel also will be deployed.

An emotional Mark-Viverito says her family is safe but other City Council members still haven't heard from their loved ones.

"I am a proud New Yorker and I am also a very proud Puerto Rican and right now I'm being tugged in both directions and it's very hard right now to deal with that," she said.

And Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-New York) described her personal pain in dealing with the disaster.

"The storm entered through my home town and I haven't been able to talk to any of my family," she said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also pledged support Thursday to lend aid in the recovery to come.

"We are confident we will be able to help this island that is, in so many ways, connected to the Garden State," said Christie. "New Jersey is prepared to assist officials in Puerto Rico with any resources they may need."

Maria, which has killed at least 15 people across the Caribbean, lashed the Dominican Republic after rising back to a Category 3 storm early Thursday morning.

As of 11 p.m., CBS2's Lonnie Quinn reported Hurricane Maria was 65 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island as a strong Category 3 storm, with sustained wind speeds of 125 mph. A landfall in the Turks and Caicos Islands is likely, Quinn reported.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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