29/08/2019 01:41 BST | Updated 29/08/2019 16:15 BST

Puerto Rico Spared The Worst Of Hurricane Dorian, First Major Storm Since María

St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, took a harder hit from the storm now making its way toward Florida.

Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for HuffPost
A group of ladies walks along the Fajardo Malecon after the storm passed in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

LOIZA, Puerto Rico ― The sun rose Wednesday over an anxiety-stricken island as the first major cyclone since Hurricane María barreled this way across the Caribbean.

But as Hurricane Dorian skirted northward, the sun peered between parting clouds over a Puerto Rico at ease.

The electricity was up and running. The roads were clear. By 5 p.m., restaurants in this municipality on the northeastern coast started to open, playing bachata music and serving hot alcapurrias, cold Medalla beers and fresh coconuts.

“It’s a relief,” said Alexis Ramos, 30, whose family runs Vinny’s Restaurant & Pescadería in Malecón de Naguabo, a beachfront town on Puerto Rico’s east coast. Earlier in the day, he hammered wooden board onto the windows, hoping to avoid the same destruction María caused nearly two years ago. 

Even on the remote islands off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, the winds died down by early evening, with gusts up to 45 miles per hour in Culebra and 31 miles per hour in Vieques, according to WIPR-TV meteorologist Ada Monzón’s radio broadcasts.

St. Thomas, in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, appeared to suffer worse damage, with winds topping 110 miles per hour. Videos showed roofs torn from homes. It’s unclear whether anyone was killed.

As the storm swirled northward, it was forecast to grow, possibly strengthening to a Category 3 hurricane by the time it hits Florida later this week. Hurricane Dorian could cost up to $15 billion in total damage and economic loss, according to an AccuWeather analysis published Wednesday afternoon. 

In Puerto Rico, the destruction seemed minimal. Gov. Wanda Vázquez said San Juan Bay would reopen tomorrow and ferry services to Vieques and Culebra could resume with U.S. Coast Guard approval, El Nuevo Día’s Gerardo E. Alvarado León reported

Still, the Financial Oversight and Management Board, which since 2016 has wielded control over the debt-strangled Puerto Rican government’s spending, gave the green light to spend $260 million on storm-related repairs. 

The White House approved an emergency declaration to make federal funding available. But the move came as President Donald Trump, widely criticized for Hurricane María’s 3,000-plus death toll, disparaged the territory in tweets as “one of the most corrupt places on earth” and called himself “the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico.” 

The storm came just weeks after historic protests ousted former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló over a corruption scandal that crescendoed with leaked chat logs showing the leader and top Cabinet officials making crass, homophobic and misogynistic remarks.