SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria grew into a Category 3 storm on Monday as it barreled toward a potentially devastating collision with islands in the eastern Caribbean. Forecasters warned it was likely to grow even stronger.
The storm was on a path that would take it near many of the islands already wrecked by Hurricane Irma and then on toward Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Maria could hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, said Ernesto Morales with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan.
“This storm promises to be catastrophic for our island,” he said. “All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane force winds.”
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria was “rapidly” intensifying and had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph Monday afternoon. It was centered about 70 miles east-southeast of Dominica — or 45 miles east of Martinique — and heading west-northwest at 10 mph.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique and St. Lucia. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla.
Forecasters said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday afternoon or evening, with storm surge raising water levels by 4 to 6 feet near the storm’s center. The storm was predicted to bring 6 to 12 inches of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.
In the French Caribbean territory of Martinique, French authorities have ordered residents to stay home as Maria approaches the island. Authorities said in a statement that all rescue and security services on the island are on standby, including 600 firefighters, 400 police officers and 500 troops. All schools and public services are closed. Residents should shelter in the safest room of their homes and be prepared for power cuts and a disruption in the water supply.
In Dominica, officials closed schools and government offices on Monday and urged people to evacuate and seek shelters.
“We should not take this storm lightly,” said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “Let us continue to pray for our safety.”
Officials in Guadeloupe said the French Caribbean island would experience extremely heavy flooding starting Monday afternoon, and they warned that many communities would be submerged overnight.
On Wednesday, Maria was expected to be near or over Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, although much of the island had its power knocked out. Nearly 70,000 people remain without power, and Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Monday warned of another widespread outage.
“We have an extremely weak infrastructure that has already been hit by one storm,” he said. “This is going to be a catastrophic event.”
Forecasters said the storm would dump up to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico and whip the U.S. territory with heavy winds for 12 to 24 hours.
Officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power in Puerto Rico immediately after the storm. Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people — or even 125,000 in an emergency. Schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.
Officials in Puerto Rico imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula Monday, saying it is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other things. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.
Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations. Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.
Officials said some stores already were imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities urged people to leave areas prone to flooding and said fishermen should remain in port.
Farther north, long-lived Hurricane Jose continued to head northward off the U.S. East Coast, causing dangerous surf and rip currents. It wasn’t expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted along the coast from Delaware to Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.
Jose was centered about 265 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north at 9 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.
Jose is expected to bring rough seas and dangerous rip currents to New Jersey and Long Island’s shorelines early this week, CBS New York reported.
National Guard officials said Monday that the departure of 100 soldiers in a Buffalo-based military police unit and 30 troopers has been delayed because of Maria as it pushes toward the eastern Caribbean.
The New York contingent was set to depart from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station aboard a military aircraft for St. Thomas, one of several Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he was sending aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands during a one-day visit to the U.S. territory last Friday.
The ocean washed over parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as Hurricane Jose passed well to the east, and five people were knocked off a coastal jetty in Rhode Island by high surf caused by the storm. Officials said rescuers had to fight through rough surf to load the injured onto stretchers and get them to shore. All five were taken to a hospital with minor and major injuries.
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Norma’s threat to Mexico’s Los Cabos resort area at the southern end of the Baja California Peninsula seemed to ease as forecasters said the storm’s center was likely to remain offshore.
Norma had winds of about 50 mph and it was centered about 175 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas. The Baja California Sur state government prepared storm shelters and canceled classes for Monday.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee weakened into a tropical depression far out in the Atlantic while Hurricane Otis weakened far out in the Pacific. Neither threatened land.
Powered by WPeMatico