Hurricane Maria hits Dominica with Category 5 punch
The "potentially catastrophic" Hurricane Maria, the strongest storm on record to make landfall in Dominica, is battering the Caribbean island, and is on course to score a direct hit on the US territory of Puerto Rico -- the first in 85 years.
A statement from the National Hurricane Center said that its record-topping winds reached 160 miles per hour when it hit the island nation.
Maria, now a Category 5 storm, made landfall on Dominica late Monday, coming ashore at 9:15 p.m. ET. It was so powerful that it tore the roof off the residence of the country's leader.
"My roof is gone," Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a Facebook post. "I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding."
Later, he said, "I have been rescued."
After Dominica, Puerto Rico is in Maria's sights. It is moving toward the island as an "extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island," the hurricane center said.
Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.
US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US territory for federal assistance to augment the territory's storm-response initiatives.
The ferocity of Maria bears striking similarities to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane which hit the Bahamas and Florida in 1992, says CNN meterologist Pedram Javaheri. Both storms are compact, and Maria's wind speed comes close to that of Hurricane Andrew -- 165 mph -- when it hit southern Florida.
Bracing for impact
Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica -- and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma -- Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become dangerous projectiles indoors.
"The next few hours should be placed on cleaning up around the house and on your properties rather than stockpiling weeks of foods and other supplies," Skerrit said in a televised speech.
"This is not a system that will linger very long. Therefore, the goal must not be on stockpiling supplies but on mitigating damage caused by flying objects."
Puerto Rico on alert
Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled Hurricane Irma's wrath in other Caribbean islands. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another powerful hurricane.
Rosselló ordered evacuations ahead of deteriorating conditions, telling CNN that extensive preparations had been made to mitigate Maria's potential impact.
"We're as ready as we can be," he told CNN's Don Lemon.
"This sort of event is a very dangerous event, high winds, a slow storm and a lot of rainfall. And this coming just about two weeks after Irma skirted off the northeast of Puerto Rico.
"We've made preparations... we've focused on really the only thing that matters right now, which is making sure people are safe. We have 500 shelters, (we're) moving people to those shelters and hopefully weathering the storm so we can rebuild Puerto Rico.
Calling its potential impact "catastrophic," Rosselló said that the island was expected to experience tropical storm force winds for about two and a half days and sustained high level hurricane winds for "the better part of a day."
Puerto Rico housing authorities said there are 450 shelters able to take in 62,714 evacuees, and up to 125,428 in an emergency situation. But there are six fewer shelters available post-Irma, since some schools still have no electricity.
"We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, since Tuesday up until late on Thursday. That's about two-and-a-half days of tropical storm winds, and on Wednesday we will feel the brunt -- all of the island will feel the brunt of sustained category four or five winds, Rosselló said.
"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus -- our only focus right now -- should be to make sure we save lives."
Rosselló said that Maria's size means all of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions.
"It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour."
If Maria strikes the island as forecast, it will be "more dangerous than Hugo and Georges," he said.
Hurricane Hugo killed five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Hurricane Georges caused more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.
Hurricane and tropical storm warnings
The storm will affect parts of the Leeward Islands and the British and US Virgin Islands for next couple of days, the center said.
Other Leeward Islands are now under hurricane warnings, including Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are under warnings.
Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.
There are tropical storm warnings in effect for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Lucia.
The government of the Dominican Republic has issued a hurricane watch from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata, and a tropical storm watch west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border.
The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by. One military team has been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.
A British military reconnaissance team is on standby to go to Montserrat and assess needs, the office said. The HMS Ocean is set to arrive in the area at week's end with 60 tons of government supplies.
Another hurricane, Jose, is also churning in the Atlantic and has spawned tropical storm warnings for part of the US East Coast.
While forecasters don't anticipate Jose making landfall in the US, it's still expected to cause "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.
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