Officials warn the public to ‘evacuate or die’
DEVELOPING: Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico early Wednesday as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm after slamming smaller Caribbean islands along the way.
Maria roared onto the island with 155 mph winds and made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico on the island’s southeast coast, striking the area with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.
Hurricane Maria which bore down menacingly on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday after devastating the tiny island nation of Dominica and Hurricane Jose (top) are both seen in the Atlantic Ocean in this NOAA’s GOES East satellite image.
Maria had previously been a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds.
“This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”
The number of power outages spiked as Maria approached, with the storm centered early Wednesday about 50 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving northwest at 10 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
More than 4,400 people were in shelters by late Tuesday, along with 105 pets, Rossello said.
Citizens rest while waiting at Humacao Arena refugee center for the imminent impact of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, September 19, 2017.
(AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
David Cruz Marrero watches the waves at Punta Santiago pier hours before the imminent impact of Maria, a Category 4 hurricane.
(David Cruz Marrero watches the waves at Punta Santiago pier hours before the imminent impact of Maria, a Category 5 hurricane)
As Maria approached, President Donald Trump offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!”
Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017
Maria ties for the eighth strongest storm in Atlantic history, when measured by wind speed. Coming in second is this year’s Irma, which had 185 mph winds and killed 38 people in the Caribbean and another 36 in the U.S. earlier this month.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.
The storm’s center passed near St. Croix overnight Tuesday, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to insist that people remain alert. St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds, Mapp said.
“For folks in their homes, I really recommend that you not be in any kind of sleepwear,” he said during a brief news conference. “Make sure you have your shoes on. Make sure you have a jacket around. Something for your head in case your roof should breach. … I don’t really recommend you be sleeping from 11 o’clock to 4 (a.m.). … Be aware of what’s going on around you.”
Maria causes ‘widespread devastation’ in Caribbean
This photo provided by Frank Phazian shows flooding caused by Hurricane Maria near Le Raizet, Guadeloupe, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Frank Phazian via AP)
Before slamming Puerto Rico, Maria caused widespread destruction across several islands in the Caribbean.
The storm killed one person in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe when a tree fell on them Tuesday, and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, officials said.
People walk by a fallen tree off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. (AP Photo/Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte)
About 40 percent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.
The storm also blew over the tiny eastern Caribbean island of Dominica late Monday, where Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page.
“Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he wrote.
He added that that his own roof had blown away.
“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote before communications went down.
The storm knocked out communications for the entire island, leaving anyone outside Dominica struggling to determine the extent of damage, though it was clearly widespread. “The situation is really grave,” Consul General Barbara Dailey said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
Dailey said she lost contact with the island about 4 a.m. At that point, officials had learned that 70 percent of homes had lost their roofs, including her own.
Flooding was a big concern, given the island’s steep mountains, cut through with rivers that rage even after a heavy rain. Dominica was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people and destroyed more than 370 homes in August 2015.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.