Hurricane Maria left a trail of “widespread destruction” on the small island of Dominica on Tuesday, then took aim at the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a potentially catastrophic Category 5 storm.
With 165-mph winds, the monster hurricane churned northwest, battering Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands with heavy rain and powerful gusts as residents of St. Croix braced for the storm’s eye to pass “near or over” the island overnight.
In Puerto Rico — which was largely spared the worst of Hurricane Irma’s wrath earlier this month — officials prepared for an outright calamity, urging residents to seek shelter before the storm makes landfall Wednesday.
“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die,” warned Hector Pesquera, the island’s public-safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the US territory would “have to rebuild.”
“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.”
Before hitting Puerto Rico, Maria was supposed to lash the US Virgin Islands, creating waves of up to 25 feet on St. Croix.
“This is an extremely, extremely dangerous hurricane,” USVI Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned Tuesday, adding that the area would see storm surges of six to nine feet and up to 20 inches of rain.
Calling the hurricane a “live animal,” Mapp told residents to remain on high alert because Maria’s course could quickly change.
Maria caused at least one death on the French island of Guadeloupe, where 80,000 households were left without power on Tuesday after the storm swept through.
The hurricane victim hadn’t heeded orders to stay inside on Tuesday, and was killed by a falling tree. Two other people went missing after their boat sank.
Dominica Consul General Barbara Dailey said officials hadn’t been able to communicate with anyone on the island since 4 a.m. Tuesday.
The roofs of 70 percent of the island’s homes had been torn off, according to authorities.
“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote in his last Facebook dispatch before falling silent as the country lost phone and Internet connections.
“My greatest fear . . . is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”