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At 06:35 AST, Maria made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, as a top-end Category Four Hurricane, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Although Maria has maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (260 kph), sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) are buffeting Yabucoa Harbour.
The NHC warns of “life-threatening wind, storm surge, and rainfall impacts” to Puerto Rico, and advises residents to “follow advice from local officials to avoid” loss of life.
Speaking on a local radio show, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello warned residents: “We don’t know what the result will be, but the people should anticipate that we won’t have power”.
Earlier in the day, Mr Rossello tweeted: “At 5am, we number 11229 refugees and 580 pets.”
A las 5am, contamos con 11229 refugiados y 580 mascotas.
— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) September 20, 2017
Hurricane warnings are in effect for: the Virgin Islands, the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and
Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas. The NHC warns these areas should expect Maria to “bring dangerous wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall”.
Hurricane Maria struck Dominica as a category five hurricane causing “mind boggling” damage, according to the island’s prime minister.
Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote in a Facebook post: “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace.”
The storm made landfall yesterday at 21:00 local time and is the first recorded category five hurricane to ever hit the Caribbean island.
Maria was downgraded to a category four shortly after, only to be upgraded back to category five at 05:10 local time today by the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Mr Skerrit made clear that because Maria struck at night the extent of the damage is still unknown. “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains,” he said.
Local journalist Curtis Matthew told the BBC: “We still don’t know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak”.
Dominica has a population of 73,543, according to 2016 World Bank figures.
Mr Skerrit said his government’s focus was now on “rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured.” He also called for international assistance to help in the island’s recovery.
EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Christos Stylianides tweeted: “EU stands ready to help”.
All of the island’s ports and airports are closed and coastal residents have been ordered to evacuate to authorised shelters.
Maria is churning northwest toward Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, where it is expected to make landfall on Tuesday night and Wednesday “as an extremely dangerous major hurricane”.
A map of Hurricane Maria’s path | Source: NHC (accessed 19/9/17 at 11:16 GMT)
At 06:00 local time, Maria had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) and was about 65 miles (100 km) southwest of Guadeloupe.
The NHC warned that any preparations “to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello took to Twitter to urge residents to “prepare for an extremely dangerous hurricane” and added: “It is time to take the precautions to avoid loss of life. The Government continues to work on shelters and contingency plans.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott tweeted: “FL’s thoughts and prayers are with Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria approaches.”
The American Virgin Islands were evacuated by the U.S. Navy before and after Hurricane Irma.
More than 1,300 British troops are already in the region to help with recovery efforts. Royal Navy fleet flagship HMS Ocean is expected to arrive at the end of the week with 60 tonnes of aid.
Hurricane Maria is headed west toward the Leeward Islands, where it’s expected to make landfall late on September 18 as a major hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
At midday (local time) on September 18, the Category Three hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (150 kph) and was 60 miles (95 km) east of Martinique.
The NHC expects Maria to “maintain category 3 to 4 intensity through the forecast period.”
A map of Hurricane Maria’s path | Source: NHC (accessed 18/9/17 at 16:22 GMT)
It also warns that the storm “will affect portions of the Leeward Islands and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands as an extremely dangerous major hurricane during the next couple of days”, and has issued hurricane warnings for many of these islands.
Maria is expected to pummel Puerto Rico later in the week.
The NHC believes Maria will likely cause lethal flash floods, storm surges and mudslides for the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
Many of the Leeward Islands in Maria’s direct path had been spared by Hurricane Irma’s onslaught last week.
But Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have only just begun recovering from Irma’s destruction (see our coverage).
Asked about preparations for the storm, Candy Giovan, owner of Olga’s Fancy Hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands, told WikiTribune: “Everyone’s gone. All the tourists got evacuated off the island about a week ago via ship.” Ms Giovan said residents were also being evacuated to Puerto Rico.
And how was she planning on weathering Hurricane Maria? “We wait,” said Giovan.
Below is a summary of the watches and warning issued by the NHC.
- St Kitts & Nevis
- St Lucia
- U.S. Virgin Islands**
- British Virgin Islands
Tropical storm warning:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Saba and St. Eustatius
- Sint Maarten
- Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra
- Saba and St. Eustatius
- Sint Maarten
- St Martin and St Barthélemy
Tropical storm watch:
- St Vincent and the Grenadines
George Engels is a multimedia journalist whose work has been published in The Sunday Times and The Camden New Journal, among other publications. He has a background in history and philosophy and a strong interest in transnational political and social affairs, particularly in cases where governments are failing their people. He’s @gengels92 on Twitter.