The core of “extremely dangerous” Hurricane Maria is expected to reach Puerto Rico imminently and punish the U.S. territory with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters say.
Maria weakened slightly to a Category 4 hurricane early Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
As of 5 a.m. EDT, the storm was some 15 miles south-southwest of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and about 50 miles southeast of San Juan, moving northwest at 10 mph and packing maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, the center said. At one point, Maria had top sustained winds of 175 mph and was a Category 5 storm.
On the forecast track, Maria’s eye will make landfall in Puerto Rico “in a couple of hours, cross Puerto Rico today, and pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday,” the center said, adding that Maria is expected to still be a Category 4 hurricane when it slams into Puerto Rico.
Maria’s outer eyewall lashed the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix early Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the hurricane wreaked widespread devastation on Dominica, leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado.
As rains began to lash Puerto Rico Tuesday, 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.”
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.
Follow along below for live updates on the storm. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted:
5:15a New hurricane warnings posted
The government of the Bahamas has issued a hurricane warning for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeastern Bahamas.
4:45 a.m. Death toll ticks up
The prefect of the French island of Guadeloupe has raised the death toll stemming from Hurricane Maria from one to two people. Eric Maire said Tuesday night that in addition to one person who “did not comply with the confinement instructions” and was killed by a falling tree, another person died after falling “in the sea.”
The Guadeloupe prefecture has also said two people are reported missing after a shipwreck near the French island of Desirade.
France’s interior minister Gerard Collomb said there were three people wounded in Martinique, one seriously.
The extent of the damage from Tuesday’s hurricane is yet to be assessed on those French territories.
2:15 a.m. Maria aiming at Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico early Wednesday, and the National Hurricane Center warned the Category 5 storm could still be that strong when it unleashed its full fury there.
1:17 a.m.: Maria’s outer eyewall lashes St. Croix
The National Hurricane Center said Maria’s outer eyewall — the powerful ring that surrounds the core of the hurricane — was lashing St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, early Wednesday morning.
A sustained wind of 90 mph with a wind gust of 127 mph was reported in the western region of St. Croix, the National Hurricane Center said.
10:50 p.m.: President Trump tweets about Puerto Rico
President Trump tweeted “our hearts are with” Puerto Rico, and wrote the island is about to be hit by a “new monster” hurricane.
In the past few weeks, Mr. Trump has visited several U.S. states hard-hit by hurricanes. Mr. Trump traveled to Texas and Louisiana twice in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Then last week, he traveled to Fort Meyers and Naples, Florida, two of the places hardest hit by Hurricane Irma.
“I just want to tell you, we are there for you 100 percent. I’ll be back here numerous times. I mean, this is a state that I know very well, as you understand. And these are special, special people, and we love ’em,” Mr. Trump told reporters during his visit to Florida.
Irma did not directly hit Puerto Rico, but still battered the island with rain and wind and left 70 percent of the island without power.
10:26 p.m.: Hurricane-force winds expected shortly on St. Croix
Hurricane-force winds should start soon on St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Hurricane Center said.
A wind gust to 87 mph was recently recorded in St. Croix, the hurricane center said. The storm is located about 40 miles southeast of St. Croix.
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, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth 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.”
8:05 p.m.: Monster Hurricane Maria approaches Puerto Rico weeks after Irma
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.
7:33 p.m.: “Extremely dangerous” Maria “still strengthening,” Hurricane Center says
Hurricane Maria’s maximum sustained winds were recorded at 175 mph as of 7 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said, meaning the “extremely dangerous” storm is “still strenghtening.”
Winds of 63 mph were recorded on eastern portion of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Hurricane Center said.
5:46 p.m.: “Now appears likely” Maria will be Category 5 when it hits Puerto Rico
Hurricane center forecasters say it “now appears likely” that Maria will still be at Category 5 intensity when it moves over the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
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.
The center of the hurricane was forecast to move near or over the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday, bringing with it “life-threatening” flooding from rain and storm surge.
5:00 p.m.: National Hurricane Center says “potentially catastrophic” Maria expected to pass close to the U.S.
The National Hurricane Center said “potentially catastrophic” Maria is expected to pass near the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and over Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
As of 5 p.m., the storm had maximum sustained winds of 165 miles per hour.
The hurricane center also warned that preparations for “life-threatening storm surge” and “rainfall flooding and destruction winds” should be completed as soon as possible. Storm surge of 6 to 9 feet could be expected in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The eye of Maria is located about 175 miles southeast of Puerto Rico, and is moving to the west/northwest at 10 mph, the hurricane center said.
Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas have been added to the hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. The tropical storm warning for Antigua and Barbuda, devastated by Hurricane Irma, has been discontinued.
4:43 p.m.: Dominica’s leader thurst into spotlight with social media posts
A dramatic series of social media posts at the height of Hurricane Maria have 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.
4:14 p.m.: Maria lashes Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with rain
Potentially catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Maria is lashing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with rain.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the hurricane was expected to remain an “extremely dangerous” category 4 or 5 hurricane when it passes near or over the Virgin Islands overnight, and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
2:53 p.m.: First death during Maria confirmed
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.
2:47 p.m.: Most internet service out to Dominica
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.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted updates on Facebook after the storm hit overnight, but his posts ceased hours ago. Others also reported difficulties with the island’s telephone service.
12:59 p.m.: 25K households lose power in Martinique
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.
12:30 p.m.: Families anxiously await updates from Dominica
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.
12:21 p.m.: Florida governor urges residents to watch Maria
Florida Gov. Rick Scott says his state’s citizens should carefully monitor Hurricane Maria, which is forecast to veer out into the Atlantic and miss the state. But Scott reminded people on Tuesday that Hurricane Irma’s path shifted as it approached the U.S., causing devastation to the state.
Scott encouraged people to restock their hurricane kits, buy water and have an evacuation plan. About 2 percent of the state’s electric customers are still without power due to Irma, he said.
11:52 a.m.: Virgin Islands expect direct hit from Maria
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp says that the track of Hurricane Maria has shifted and the eye is now expected to pass over the southwestern tip of St. Croix.
That means parts of the island are expected to experience the full force of the storm’s winds that have now reached 160 mph. Conditions are expected to deteriorate Tuesday night with the approach of the “extremely, extremely dangerous hurricane.”
The Virgin Islands are already reeling from Hurricane Irma, which passed over the islands of St. Thomas and St. John.
Mapp warned that Maria is expected to bring up to 12 inches of rain to St. John.
11:19 a.m.: Maria on track for Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
Forecasters are describing Hurricane Maria as “potentially catastrophic” as it heads toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. that the “extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm is on a forecast track approaching the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico between Tuesday night and Wednesday.
The top sustained winds of the storm are near 160 mph and the Miami-based center says some fluctuations in intensity are likely over the coming days. The eye of Maria is about 115 miles west of Guadeloupe and about 150 miles southeast of St. Croix. The major hurricane is moving to the west-northwest at 10 mph.
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