Hurricane Maria pounded the Caribbean island of Dominica with 160 mph winds Monday and took dead aim at Puerto Rico, where officials urged anyone who could get away do so before it’s too late.
“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.”
I can’t possibly stress this enough: If you have friends or family in Puerto Rico, please get in touch.
Maria will be much worse than Irma. https://t.co/lTEUFh2E0j
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 18, 2017
In a summer of violent hurricanes, Maria was a raging Category 5 storm that officials feared could grow even stronger before clobbering Puerto Rico early Wednesday.
“I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote on his Facebook page before his rescue.
“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit also posted.
“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he said. “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.”
On Tuesday morning, he asked “friendly nations and organizations” to provide a helicopter so that he could survey damage to the island.
“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds,” he said.
Maria had been a tropical storm earlier in the week, but within 27 hours, wind speeds increased by 90 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Hurricane Center warned that Maria would be even more destructive than Hurricane Irma, which crashed through Florida after ripping through the Caribbean.
The storm could dump 18 inches of rain on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and, in conjunction with storm surges as high as 9 feet, could leave parts of the U.S. territories “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” the hurricane center said.
“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” it said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that rescuers will not risk their lives once Maria approaches.
“Seek refuge with a family member, friend or move to a state shelter, because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour,” Rosselló said Monday.
He said the storm could cause historic damage, striking “with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations.”
Meanwhile, experts warned Maria will only make things worse in Puerto Rico.
“The storm compounds already existing problems on the island,” said Deepak Lamba-Nieves, research director at the Center for a New Economy in San Juan. “From that perspective, it’s a really tense moment and one that places Puerto Rico in a more precarious situation than before.”
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