Hurricane Maria Does ‘Mind Boggling’ Damage to Dominica, Leader Says – New York Times

MEXICO CITY — The Caribbean island nation of Dominica sustained “mind boggling” damage from Hurricane Maria, its prime minister said Tuesday, after the storm hit with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 miles per hour that ripped roofs off buildings, including his own home.

There was no immediate word of deaths or injuries on the island from the storm, the third in a string of devastating hurricanes to sweep through the region in recent weeks.

The National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning that Maria, now moving away from Dominica, had regained Category 5 strength, after briefly dropping to Category 4. The “potentially catastrophic” storm is expected to approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the center said.

Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica’s prime minister, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that the island, where 72,000 people live, had experienced “widespread devastation,” based on initial reports.

“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Skerrit said that “the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.” On Monday night, he said, he had to be rescued after the storm tore the roof off his official residence.

He said the island’s immediate priority was to rescue people who were trapped and provide medical care to the injured. “I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating … indeed, mind boggling,” Mr. Skerrit said.

He said that he expected the island’s airports and seaports to be inoperable for a few days. And he asked “friendly nations and organizations” to provide a helicopter so that he could survey the damage.

“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds,” he said.

By early Tuesday morning, phone and internet signals on Dominica appeared to be down, leaving the island virtually incommunicado.

Early reports suggested that the neighboring islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique had not been as badly hit as Dominica, though the authorities there had not yet provided a comprehensive assessment of the damage.

Officials in Guadeloupe, to the north of Dominica, said early assessments indicated that in certain areas, including Les Saintes and southern Basse Terre island, the hurricane caused serious flooding and widespread damage to buildings. Roofs were torn off by the wind, and about 80,000 homes lost power.

Guadeloupe has been a staging ground for the regional aid response to Hurricane Irma, which battered the Caribbean two weeks ago. It has also been a refuge for people from St. Martin, an island hit hard by Hurricane Irma. So the arrival of Maria could compound the difficulties involved in recovering from the disasters.

The territory’s prefect urged civilians to remain in their homes and shelters to allow emergency crews to clear the streets of fallen power cables and debris, and said the military would be deployed to help the police maintain order.

The French island of Martinique, to the south of Dominica, suffered limited damage, French government officials said. Two people reported minor injuries, two localities lost water service and between 25,000 and 33,000 households lost power.

Jacques Witkowski, France’s head of civil security, said he had ordered local officials on Martinique to make a reconnaissance flight over Dominica to survey the damage. If the government there requires help, the French authorities will send rescue teams to the island, he said at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday morning.

Around 250 military personnel and firefighters are scheduled to leave from France’s mainland to its overseas territories on Thursday, complementing a force of 4,600 military personnel and search-and-rescue teams already on the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana, Mr. Witkowski said.

As the hurricane blew west-northwest through the Caribbean on Tuesday morning, residents in the British Virgin Islands raced to prepare for its arrival. The debris left behind by Hurricane Irma is still piled high on the sides of roads and homes remain damaged, but crews operating heavy machinery were trying to clear as much of the wreckage as possible Tuesday morning while marina workers secured boats.

“We are all stressed trying to finish what needs to be done before we have to hunker down,” said Christine Perakis, who rents an apartment in Tortola where she weathered Hurricane Irma. “What makes us hopeful is that we took Irma head-on and this one is about 60 miles away.”

For Hurricane Maria, Ms. Perakis is staying with friends who live in the island’s marina and have opened their home to outsiders. For now, there is food and water as they count down to another hurricane, holed up inside the house.

“I don’t know what they did to get two hurricanes in a row,” she said. “I’ll gladly do some rain dances to stop this.”

Kirk Semple reported from Mexico City, and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong. Azam Ahmed contributed reporting from Miami Beach, Elian Peltier from Paris, and Coline Racloz from Saint-François, Guadeloupe.

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