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Hurricane Maria aims at Puerto Rico after slamming Dominica

Updated: 
September 20, 2017 - 12:05am

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking widespread devastation on Dominica and leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado.

As rains began to lash Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned that Maria could hit “with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations.”

“We’re going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said, adding that a likely island wide power outage and communication blackout could last for days. “We’re going to have to rebuild.”

Authorities warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival Wednesday.

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

By Tuesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Maria’s winds had intensified to 175 mph and additional strengthening was possible. At 11 p.m. EST, Maria was centered about 30 miles south-southeast of St. Croix, or 120 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was moving west-northwest at 10 mph.

Maria’s center was expected to pass several miles south of St. Croix late Tuesday on its way to Puerto Rico, prompting U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp to ask that people remain alert.

St. Croix was largely spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma on the chain’s St. Thomas and St. John islands just two weeks ago. But this time, the island would experience five hours of hurricane force winds starting about 11 p.m. EST, Mapp said.

“For folks in their homes, I really recommend that you not be in any kind of sleepwear,” he said during a brief press conference late Tuesday. “Make sure you have your shoes on. Make sure you have a jacket around. Something for your head in case your roof should breach. … I don’t really recommend you be sleeping from 11 o’clock to 4 a.m.. … Be aware of what’s going on around you.”

The warning came after Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page as the storm blew over that tiny country late Monday — but then stopped suddenly as phone and internet connections with the country were cut.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote before communications went down.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofing tearing off houses on the small rugged island. He said that even his own roof had blown away.

In the last message before falling silent, he appealed for international aid: “We will need help, my friends, we will need help of all kinds.”

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