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.