Hurricane Maria Roars Across Caribbean; Puerto Rico Facing Direct Hit

(CBS News) — Hurricane Maria slammed the Caribbean as a powerful storm Monday night, making landfall on the island of Dominica with Category 5 strength. The National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday “it now appears likely” that Maria will remain a Category 5 storm when it hits Puerto Rico.

As of 10 p.m. Pacific Time, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters expect the core of the storm to reach southeastern Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning.

Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said there were reports of “widespread devastation” throughout the small island. He said the storm’s winds ripped the roofs off his home as well as many other buildings. There were no immediate reports of deaths, but Skerrit said he would assess the damage when the storm has passed.

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  The NASA Day Cloud Convection RGB uses multiple bands to help discriminate liquid/low clouds (yellow) from ice/high clouds (white)  in this GIF of Hurricane Maria.

 NASA EARTH

Maria is targeting other islands that did not get the full fury of Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Those islands include St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The “potentially catastrophic” hurricane was located about 30 miles off of St. Croix on Tuesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Authorities in Puerto Rico, which faces the possibility of a direct hit, warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival on Wednesday.

“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die. I don’t know how to make this any clearer,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Puerto Rico had 500 shelters capable of taking in up to 133,000 people in a worst-case scenario. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power immediately after the storm.

“This is going to impact all of Puerto Rico with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations,” he said. “We’re going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico. We’re going to have to rebuild.”

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma sideswiped San Juan, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello walked through the streets of the city, making sure no one was taking any chances, CBS News’ David Begnaud reports.

“Please let us help you,” Rossello told one family.

Irma knocked out power in Guaynabo and 70 percent of the rest of the island, including the home of 68-year old Hector Pena-Gomez. He’s bedridden with Parkinson’s disease.

“We’re going to do our best to take you to a safe place,” Rossello told Pena-Gomez.

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The forecast track for Hurricane Maria on Sept. 19, 2017.

 NOAA

A hurricane warning was in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat and portions of the Dominican Republic.

A dramatic series of social media posts at the height of Hurricane Maria put the spotlight on the prime minister of the small Caribbean island of Dominica.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit’s online messages Monday were the most detailed, and colorful, descriptions of an island just as communications with the outside world were abruptly cut by the storm.

“Rough! Rough! Rough!” the 45-year-old leader wrote at one point. He has since been rescued.

Skerrit’s posts drew widespread attention on the tiny island as it was ravaged by the second cyclone to clobber it in the last three years.

A graduate of the University of Mississippi, the prime minister also used social media to give updates and try to raise aid when Tropical Storm Erick devastated the island in 2015.

Officials say one person has died on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe after being hit by a falling tree.

It’s the first death attributed to Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm.

Authorities say the person did not comply with orders to remain indoors on Tuesday morning. They say two other people are reported missing after their boat sank off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe.

Akamai Technologies, a company that tracks internet status around the world, says most of Dominica’s internet service appears to be down. The company says it sees small spikes of activity, but far less than normal on Tuesday.

It says it’s possible that the island’s electrical system is down.

About 25,000 households lost electricity and two small towns are without potable water after Hurricane Maria roared past the French island of Martinique.

The head of French civil security, Jacques Witkowski, told reporters in Paris on Tuesday that it was too soon to say whether the French archipelago of Guadeloupe was so lucky. Communications there have been difficult. He says two people suffered minor injuries.

The prefect, or highest French official, of Guadaloupe, Eric Maire, said in a video via Twitter that some roads and homes were flooded and heavy rain is expected to continue. He told island residents to “remain inside” amid the flood threat and warnings by forecasters of possible landslides.

France is upping its manpower in the region, with two flights taking off on Tuesday, the first carrying 160 firefighters and military personnel to Martinique.

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People clear debris in Saint-Pierre, on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, on September 19, 2017.

 LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/GETTY

Family and friends of people studying at Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica are anxiously trying to find news of their loved ones following the passage of Hurricane Maria.

The school says there is widespread loss of communication on the island.

Many messages posted on Facebook by friends and family say they have been unable to talk to students since late Monday evening as the storm approached.

One woman says her husband spoke to their daughter at 6 p.m. as the storm was in full force. She wrote that her daughter was “very scared but safe with friends.” But she has not heard from her since.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose has weakened to a tropical storm, but forecasters expect dangerous surf and rip currents will continue along the East Coast of the U.S. for several days.

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