Category 5 ‘Hurricane Maria’ Batters Island of Dominica, Threatens Others
Storm’s path could take it near many islands recently devastated by Irma
Hurricane Maria swept over the small island of Dominica with catastrophic Category 5 winds overnight, starting a charge into the eastern Caribbean that threatens islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma and holds the possibility of a direct hit on Puerto Rico.
Fierce winds and driving rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours, causing flooding and tearing roofs from homes. A police official on the island, Insp. Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was still too dangerous for officers to do a full assessment as the storm raged outside.
— NHC Atlantic Ops (@NHC_Atlantic) September 19, 2017
“Where we are, we can’t move,” he said in a brief phone interview while hunkered down against the region’s second Category 5 hurricane this month.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit earlier captured the fury of Maria as it made landfall. “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of increasingly harrowing posts on Facebook.
‘Rough! Rough! Rough!’
A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs tearing off houses on the small rugged island.
He then wrote that he thought his home had been damaged. And three words: “Rough! Rough! Rough!”
A half hour later, he said: “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” Seven minutes later he posted that he had been rescued.
Officials in Guadeloupe said the French island near Dominica probably would experience heavy flooding and warned that many communities could be submerged. In nearby Martinique, authorities ordered people to remain indoors and said they should be prepared for power cuts and disruption in the water supply.
Authorities in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival there on Wednesday.
“You have to evacuate. Otherwise you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”
Maria had maximum sustained winds of 260 km/h late Monday. The eye was atop Dominica and about 435 kilometres southeast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was heading west-northwest at 15 km/h.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm would likely intensify over the next 24 hours or longer, noting its eye had shrunk to a compact 16 kilometres across and warning: “Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye.”
That generally means an extremely strong hurricane will get even mightier, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. He said it was just like when a spinning ice skater brings in their arms and rotates faster.
“You just don’t see those in weaker hurricanes,” he said.
The storm’s hurricane-force winds extended out about 45 kilometres and tropical storm-force winds out as far as 205 kilometres.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Martinique and Anguilla.
As of Monday night, Global Affairs Canada advised people to avoid all travel to the following:
- British Virgin Islands.
- U.S. Virgin Islands.
- St. Maarten.
- St. Martin.
- Saint Kitts and Nevis.
- Saint Lucia.
- Puerto Rico.
Forecasters said storm surge could raise water levels by 1.8 to 2.7 metres near Maria’s centre. The storm was predicted to bring 25 to 38 centimetres of rain for some islands, with the possibility of higher amounts in isolated spots.
The current forecast track would carry it about 35 kilometres south of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, territorial Gov. Kenneth Mapp said.
‘A very, very long night’
“We are going to have a very, very long night,” Mapp said as he urged people in the territory to finish any preparations.
St. Thomas and St. John are still stunned from a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which did extensive damage and caused four deaths on the two islands.
Barry University said it chartered a private plane to carry students and staff from its St. Croix facility to Florida in preparation for Maria. It said 72 people connected to the Barry’s Physician Assistant Program and a few pets were on Monday’s evacuation flight.
In neighbouring Puerto Rico, nearly 70,000 people were still without power following their earlier brush with Irma and nearly 200 remained in shelters as Maria approached.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Puerto Rico had 500 shelters capable of taking in up to 133,000 people in a worst-case scenario. He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power immediately after the storm, which could hit as a Category 5 hurricane.
‘Catastrophic in every way’
“That is catastrophic in every way,” said Roberto Garcia with the National Weather Service in San Juan. “People have to act, and they have to act now. They can no longer wait for a miracle.”
To the north, Hurricane Jose stirred up dangerous surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast, though forecasters said the storm was unlikely to make landfall. Big waves caused by the storm swept five people off a coastal jetty in Rhode Island and they were hospitalized after being rescued.
A tropical storm warning was posted for coastal areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and tropical storm watches were up for parts of New York’s Long Island and Connecticut.
Jose’s centre was about 370 kilometres east of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving north at 13 km/h. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h.
With files from CBC
© The Associated Press, 2017
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