Hurricane Maria back at Category 5 as it barrels toward Puerto Rico CNN

(CNN)Hurricane Maria, making its first landfall as a Category 5 storm, has blasted Dominica with “widespread devastation,” according to the prime minister of the Caribbean island nation.

With the US territory of Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands now in its path, Maria’s powerful punch diminished slightly to Category 4 after it hit Dominica Monday night, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
But the NHC said Tuesday morning after an Air Force “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft flew into the storm, Maria had reintensified to Category 5 status, with estimated maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. It was moving west-northwest at 9 mph, with that track expected to continue through Wednesday.
“On the forecast track, the eye of Maria will move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea today, and approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tonight and Wednesday,” the NHC said in its overnight updates, adding that it would be “an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane” as it bears down on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Hurricane-force winds extended up to 30 miles (45 km) outward from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 125 miles (205 km) from the center, the NHC said.
On Dominica, authorities were waiting for daylight to assess the damages from Hurricane Maria to the island nation of more than 73,000 people.
“Initial reports are of widespread devastation,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on Facebook. “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 former French and British colony — an independent nation since 1978 — has an economy heavily dependent on tourism and agriculture, industries that would be extremely vulnerable to the ravages of a hurricane.
Hurricane Maria is the strongest storm on record to make landfall in Dominica, and it would be the first Category 4 or greater hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.
Hurricane Maria track
A hurricane warning from the NHC remains in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
The regional government of Guadeloupe tweeted early Tuesday to its residents: “Don’t go out under any circumstances.”
US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico 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 that 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.

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 … 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 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.”
“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.”
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.
In Salinas, a city on the island’s southern coast where the storm is expected to hit hard, CNN saw dozens of people queuing for water and essentials ahead of the hurricane’s anticipated impact.
Restauranteur Juan Miguel Gonzalez told CNN he was “worried” about the storm’s impact. “Not about material stuff, rather the people,” he said.
His staff were working to prepare the waterfront property for Maria’s arrival and the 39-year-old said that he would return tomorrow to make sure that it was secure.
Staff were working to secure restauranteur Juan Miguel Gonzalez' property ahead of the storm late Monday.

The Puerto Rico Convention Center in the capital San Juan to the north, which is still housing Hurricane Irma evacuees from other Caribbean islands, is preparing to accept thousands of residents as the brunt of the storm is felt.

Rapid intensification

Maria went from a tropical storm to a Category 5 — the highest level on the scale used by meteorologists — in just 30 hours. Its top winds were at 65 mph at 2 p.m. on Sunday but had exploded to the Category 5 status of 160 mph by 8 p.m. on Monday, according to the NHC.
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 Dominican Republic government 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.

‘Evacuate or die’: Puerto Ricans are told to abandon their homes and a curfew is imposed in the British Virgin Islands as 160mph Hurricane Maria smashes Dominica and the Caribbean Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Puerto Ricans have been told to ‘evacuate or die’ after Hurricane Maria laid waste to the island of Dominica on its destructive path across the Caribbean.
Islanders have been warned to find shelter immediately with the howling 160mph winds expected to ‘devastate’ most of the U.S. territory tomorrow.
Frantic attempts are also being made to prepare for the storm before it slams into the British Virgin Islands where a curfew has been put in place.
It comes as experts revealed Maria has developed a ‘pinhole eye’ producing a more compact centre and intensifying its power.
Overnight, the storm caused chaos on Dominica and destroyed the house of prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit who had to be rescued. The 44-year-old, who has led the country since 2004, said he was at the ‘complete mercy of the hurricane’ before announcing that he had made it to safety.
But he later warned Dominica has lost ‘all what money can buy’ adding on Facebook: ‘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.’

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Dominica’s main hospital has had its roof torn off, leaving patients vulnerable to the hurricane and local residents without access to medical care.
Power has gone down across the majority of Dominica. The DBS radio station has stopped broadcasting on the island after reports that the building had been smashed by falling objects in 160mph winds.
Meanwhile, emergency steps are being undertaken on the British Virgin Islands to prepare for the looming onslaught, although an official co-ordinating the operation has warned the islands had been ‘weakened’ by Irma and the situation ‘doesn’t look good’.
A curfew is in place and the governor Gus Jaspert warned of a race against time to clear up Irma debris to stop it becoming ‘missiles’ when Maria hits.

Another British overseas territory, Montserrat, has been issued with a hurricane warning amid fears Maria could bring a devastating storm surge, while torrential rain could trigger deadly flash floods.
UK International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the Government is under no illusion about the possible impact of the strengthening hurricane and said they were taking steps to prepare communities.
Forecasters warned it was likely to grow even stronger as it entered warmer waters. It’s still too early to know whether Maria poses any threat to the U.S.
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 10 miles across and warning: ‘Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye.’

That generally means an extremely strong hurricane will get even mightier, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. He said it 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.
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, the island’s public safety commissioner. ‘I don’t know how to make this any clearer.’
Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, meanwhile warned the hurricane will have a much greater impact than Irma.
‘It will essentially devastate most of the island,’ he told USA Today adding: ‘It will provoke massive flooding in flooding prone regions … our priority is to save lives.’
Officials in Guadeloupe said the French island near Dominica probably would experience heavy flooding and warned that many communities could be submerged.

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