(NEW YORK) — As residents of Puerto Rico brace for Hurricane Maria — which slammed into the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm Monday night — Puerto Rico’s governor is calling the storm “the biggest and potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century.”
Maria, which has left at least two dead in the Caribbean, is forecast to “remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane” as it approaches Puerto Rico early Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Maria could bring life-threatening flooding and mudslides, as well as a 6- to 9-foot storm surge, to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Dangerous flash flooding and mudslides are also possible, especially in mountainous regions in Puerto Rico.
As of 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Maria’s maximum sustained winds had decreased to 160 mph, but it remained a Category 5 storm. Maria’s maximum sustained winds had been as high as 175 mph during the day Tuesday. It was located 35 miles west of St. Croix and 70 miles southeast of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. The storm is expected to reach the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning.
The last time Puerto Rico was hit by a Category 5 storm was in 1928.
President Donald Trump tweeted his best wishes and pledged support for the U.S. territory late Tuesday.
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
Early Wednesday, a gust of 137 mph had been reported in the western part of St. Croix as the storm moved west-northwest at 10 mph.
The prefecture of Guadeloupe announced early Wednesday two people were killed in the hurricane, and two others were missing.
A palm tree in St. Thomas appeared to be nearly uprooted as the storm moved over the island in video posted to Facebook.
Hurricane warnings are in effect in St. Kitts and Nevis, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic.
Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the U.S. mainland.
The storm — which is expected to bring life-threatening winds, storm surge and flooding — will be violent, the governor of Puerto Rico warned today. The governor advised residents to be prepared to hunker down for 72 to 90 hours.
The eye of the storm is expected to approach the eastern part of Puerto Rico and make landfall between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Heavy winds and gusts over 100 mph for the eastern part of the island in the morning, while strong winds will affect San Juan into the afternoon hours.
It’s been just two weeks since Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 39 people in the Caribbean and demolished homes, tore through Puerto Rico, and now Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello is saying Maria is “potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit” the U.S. territory in a century.
A Category 4 storm hasn’t hit Puerto Rico directly since 1932.
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. Over 300 people are already at shelters as of this afternoon, the governor said.
Rossello said a lot of infrastructure will likely be lost and he said communications will be affected.
The governor in an address this afternoon said, “We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”
When Irma tore through the Caribbean, Rossello said, “the people of Puerto Rico not only demonstrated our resilience but we banded together to show our kindness and hospitality to thousands of our fellow Americans in the U.S. Virgin Islands, BVI, St. Marteen and beyond.”
“Now we’re looking down the barrel of Maria, a historic Category 5 hurricane. Although it looks like a direct hit with major damage to Puerto Rico is inevitable, I ask for America’s prayers,” he said. “No matter what happens here in the next 36 hours, Puerto Rico will survive, we will rebuild, we will recover and with your support, we will come out stronger than ever.”
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 businesses are closed or closing early today and the San Juan Airport is closing this evening.
As Maria hit the Caribbean island of 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 Monday night.
Officials said in Guadeloupe one person died from a falling tree.
Officials said 80,000 are without power on Guadeloupe and some flooding was reported, but few homes are damaged.
Dominica was “shut down” as the storm approached, said Anil Etienne, a spokesman for Dominica’s Office of Disaster Management. Etienne told ABC News officials were worried about flooding in low-lying areas and opened about 146 shelters.
The prime minister of Dominica wrote on Facebook late Monday night, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding,” before announcing, “I have been rescued.”
Skerrit gave an update this morning, writing on Facebook, “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”
“The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” he continued. “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.”
After hitting Puerto Rico, the storm will begin to turn north and is expected to come near the Dominican Republic Wednesday afternoon, potentially with winds over 100 mph.
Maria is forecast to then continue north, avoiding the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Florida, before ending up out to sea.
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