Hurricane Maria slammed into the Caribbean island of Dominica as a Category 5 storm with “merciless” 160 mph winds Monday night, and the storm, deemed “potentially catastrophic” by the National Hurricane Center, is now headed for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Maria is expected to move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea today and is forecast to “remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane” as it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico tonight and Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the United States mainland.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the island is facing “an unprecedented situation” as residents brace for their second major hurricane just two weeks after Irma tore through the U.S. territory, killing at least three.
Rossello said tropical storm force winds are expected today and hurricane force winds are expected throughout Wednesday. Residents should expect to be without power for a period of time, but the length depends on the damage to the island, he noted.
As Maria hit Dominica Monday night, Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit published a series of dire Facebook posts, calling the 160 mph winds “merciless.”
“We do not know what is happening outside. We not dare look out … we pray for its end!” Skerrit wrote.
Maria was the first Category 5 hurricane to made landfall on Dominica; before Monday the strongest hurricane to hit Dominica was Hurricane David, a Category 4 in 1979.
Dominica was “shut down” as the storm approached, said Anil Etienne, a spokesperson for Dominica’s Office of Disaster Management. Etienne told ABC News officials were worried about flooding in low-lying areas and opened about 146 shelters.
The prime minister wrote on Facebook late last night, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding,” before announcing, “I have been rescued.”
Skerrit gave an update this morning, writing on Facebook, “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. 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.”
“The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” he continued. “The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.”
“Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble.”
After hitting Puerto Rico, Maria is forecast to turn north, avoiding the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Florida.
Reporting by: [Good Morning America] EMILY SHAPIRO, JOSHUA HOYOS, MAX GOLEMBO and J.J. Galla