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Catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Maria is headed for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

September 19, 2017

  • Hurricane Maria is headed for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a powerful Category 5 storm with 160-mph winds.
  • Maria made landfall on the island of Dominica at 9:15 p.m. ET on Monday and was the first Category 5 storm in history to do so.
  • Early reports indicate “widespread devastation” on Dominica.
  • Forecasts show Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the direct path of Maria, which could hit late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Hurricane Maria has begun its assault on the Caribbean, devastating the island of Dominica and now heading toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Maria is powerful, life-threatening Category 5 storm with sustained winds of at least 160 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast.

Maria made landfall on the island of Dominica at 9:15 p.m. ET on Monday. Although the destruction is still being assessed, Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, wrote on his Facebook page: “Initial reports are of widespread devastation … The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.”

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are in Maria’s path — the eye of the storm is likely to hit Puerto Rico late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

It’s still too soon to say whether Florida or other parts of the continental US will be in the storm’s path after it crosses the Caribbean. For now, at least, it looks as though Maria will turn north before reaching Florida.

Hurricane warnings are currently in effect for the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat. Those islands are likely to see hurricane conditions within the next 36 hours. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, Martinique, and Sint Maarten.

Hurricane watches — meaning hurricane conditions are possible within the next two days — are in effect for Saba, St. Eustatius, the island of St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, and parts of the Dominican Republic.

For the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the NHC said Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET that preparations against life-threatening storm surge, rainfall flooding, and destructive winds “should be rushed to completion.”

The NHC may issue additional watches and warnings on Tuesday.

Hit by a Category 5 storm

Maria is the first Category 5 storm in recorded history to hit the island of Dominica. The last and only Category 4 storm to directly hit the island nation, Hurricane David in 1979, killed more than 50 people and left 60,000 homeless.

Dominica is home to roughly 70,000 people.

“The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside,” Skerrit wrote on Facebook.

The nearby island of Guadeloupe was also slammed by the storm, with serious flooding, damage to buildings, and widespread power losses.

Maria lost some strength as its eye moved over Dominica but quickly regained its Category 5 status Tuesday morning.

Preparations for Maria have begun in Puerto Rico, where many are just starting to recover from Hurricane Irma. The island avoided a direct hit from that storm, but Irma’s powerful storm surge and winds still caused many residents to lose power. In the Virgin Islands, the soldiers who arrived to provide relief after Hurricane Irma have been evacuated.

Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency on Monday, activating the National Guard to help the island prepare.

The public safety commissioner of Puerto Rico told those in evacuation zones: “You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die.”

On St. Thomas and St. John in the Virgin Islands, residents have been urged to leave their homes for government shelters, since Irma damaged many houses. President Donald Trump also approved an emergency declaration for the Virgin Islands on Monday, giving the Federal Emergency Management Agency the go-ahead to coordinate disaster relief efforts there.

“Take this event seriously,” Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the US Virgin Islands said at a press conference Sunday. “You cannot stay in those facilities. You will not survive.”

He urged people who decide to stay in their homes to write their Social Security numbers on their bodies so they could be identified easily in a worst-case scenario.

Waters are expected to reach 6 to 9 feet above normal levels if the storm surge arrives at high tide in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Total rainfall in the Virgin Islands is expected to be between 10 and 15 inches, with isolated areas receiving 20 inches. In Puerto Rico, rainfall is estimated to be 12 to 18 inches, with isolated areas receiving 25 inches.

Hurricane Maria path forecast

National Hurricane Center

An unusually active hurricane season

Maria is the seventh hurricane of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season, making this only the ninth year on record with seven hurricanes by September 17. There have been 13 named storms so far — the average by September 18 is 7.6.

This season is also significantly ahead of the average measures for major hurricane days and accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of storm strength, duration, and frequency). As a major hurricane, Maria is pushing those measures even further ahead.

On Friday, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project issued a two-week forecastof above-normal cyclone activity for the Atlantic basin.

Hurricane Jose is still moving up the East Coast but is likely to stay offshore. The storm is nonetheless expected to bring tropical storm conditions — including winds, rainfall, and dangerous surf — to coastal and Mid-Atlantic areas.

Erin Brodwin contributed to this post.

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