Hurricane Maria slammed into the Caribbean island of Dominica as a Category 5 storm with “merciless” 160 mph winds Monday night, and the storm, deemed “potentially catastrophic” by the National Hurricane Center, is now headed for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Maria is expected to move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea today and is forecast to “remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane” as it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tonight and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the U.S. mainland.
As residents of Puerto Rico brace for their second major hurricane, two weeks after Irma tore through the U.S. territory, killing at least three, Gov. Ricardo Rossello is now calling Maria “the biggest and potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century.”
The governor said the storm will be violent and that by 4 to 8 p.m. today Puerto Rico should see tropical storm-force winds. The governor advised residents to be prepared to hunker down for 72 to 90 hours.
Rossello said up to 25 inches of rain could fall in some areas and he urged anyone in a flood-prone, mudslide-prone or coastal area to leave. Hundreds of shelters are opening, the governor said.
Rossello said a lot of infrastructure will likely be lost and he said communications will be affected.
While Puerto Rico residents appeared to go about their days with little urgency Monday, many seem to be on edge today as the storm nears.
In the capital of San Juan, most business are closed or closing early today and the San Juan Airport is closing this evening.
As Maria hit Dominica Monday night, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit published a series of dire Facebook posts, calling the 160 mph winds “merciless.”
“We do not know what is happening outside. We not dare look out … we pray for its end!” Skerrit wrote.
Maria was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall on Dominica; before Monday the strongest hurricane to hit Dominica was Hurricane David, a Category 4 in 1979.
Guadeloupe and Martinique, which both neighbor Dominica in the Caribbean, were also battered with Maria’s powerful winds and rain.