Maria pummels Dominica as it reaches the Caribbean

Hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg in the French territory of Guadeloupe yesterday. The Caribbean islands, still reeling from Hurricane Irma earlier this month, are bracing themselves for Maria.
Hurricane Maria battering the city of Petit-Bourg in the French territory of Guadeloupe yesterday. The Caribbean islands, still reeling from Hurricane Irma earlier this month, are bracing themselves for Maria.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Hurricane leaves trail of destruction on island as it storms towards British and US territories

NEW YORK • Dominica has suffered "mind-boggling" damage from Hurricane Maria, after it smashed into the eastern Caribbean island where Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said: "We have lost all that money can buy."

The hurricane strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm before making landfall on the Caribbean island yesterday in territories still reeling from Hurricane Irma.

Mr Skerrit had posted live updates on Facebook as his own roof was torn off, saying he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".

Residents hunkered down in their homes as the hurricane struck with top winds swirling at 257kmh, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said. Dominica's airport and ports were closed.

After moving across the tropical island of 72,000 people, Maria was downgraded to an "extremely dangerous" category four hurricane, but regained its strength to category five again as it raced north towards the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

By today, the storm is likely to pass very close to or directly affect Puerto Rico from the south-east to north-west. A hurricane has not made landfall in Puerto Rico since Georges in 1998, while just one category five hurricane has hit the island in recorded history.

The NHC warned of dangerous storm surges, destructive waves, flash floods and mudslides, and warned that "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion".

The French territory of Guadeloupe - the bridgehead for aid for Irma-hit French territories - ordered all residents to take shelter in a maximum-level "violet alert". Heavy rain lashed the island and several areas were without power yesterday morning.

In Guadeloupe's biggest city of Pointe-a-Pitre, Ms Elodie Corte, the boss of a metalworking company, said there had been frantic preparations to limit the damage from the storm. "We spent the morning strapping down the aluminium to stop it from flying away if the winds are strong," she said on Monday.

The Dominican Republic, the east coast of which was battered by Irma, ordered citizens in part of the north to evacuate ahead of Maria's arrival, expected today.

 

St Kitts and Nevis, the British island of Montserrat, Culebra and Vieques were also on alert. Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power cuts and pounding winds but avoided major damage as the storm skirted its shores. Flooding, mudslides and power outages were also reported in parts of St Lucia.

The worst of the storm looked likely to pass south of beleaguered Barbuda and Antigua, reeling from Irma, but it could still get strong wind gusts and heavy showers.

Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean. "We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst," said Mr Chris Austin, head of a British joint task force set up to deal with Irma, as the British Virgin Islands readied for a new onslaught.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'Maria pummels Dominica as it reaches the Caribbean'. Print Edition | Subscribe