Hurricane Maria, the second maximum-strength storm to hit the Caribbean this month, killed at least one person in Guadeloupe and bore down menacingly on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday after devastating the tiny island nation of Dominica.
Maria, a rare Category 5 storm at the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, churned in the eastern Caribbean about 80 miles (130 km) southeast of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands, US forecasters said.
Maria was carrying maximum sustained winds of 165 miles per hour (270 km per hour), the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. The “potentially catastrophic” storm was expected to pass near or over the US Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and over Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
The storm plowed into Dominica, a mountainous country of 72,000 people, late on Monday causing what Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit called “mind-boggling” destruction.
“The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” Skerrit said on Facebook, noting that his own residence had been hit too. He added that his focus was now on rescuing people who might be trapped, and getting medical help for the injured.
North of Dominica, the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe appeared to have been hit hard. The Guadeloupe prefecture said one person was killed by a falling tree and at least two people were missing in a shipwreck.
Some roofs had been ripped off, roads were blocked by fallen trees, 80,000 households were without power and there was flooding in some southern coastal areas, the prefecture said in Twitter posts.