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Hurricane Maria threatens Puerto Rico as it leave trail of Caribbean destruction


Lionel Chamoiseau | AFP

John Burger - published on 09/19/17 - updated on 09/19/17

"The winds are merciless," Dominica's prime minister posted. "We shall survive by the grace of God."

Hurricane Maria, the second Category 5 storm to roll through the Caribbean islands this month, smashed through the island of Dominica Monday night, after rapidly intensifying from a Category 1 hurricane a little more than a day earlier.

Some parts of the Caribbean have already been devastated by another Category 5 hurricane, Irma. Maria might make landfall Wednesday morning in Puerto Rico.

In just 30 hours, Maria’s intensity exploded from 65 mph on Sunday to 160 mph by Monday night, the National Hurricane Center said. That’s when it hit Dominica, knocking out communications. The prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, however, was able to post periodic reports on social media.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote on Facebook Monday night.

Very early Tuesday morning, he wrote that initial reports were saying there was “widespread devastation” on the island.

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

Skerrit said the winds have swept away the roofs of “almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside.”

“We will need help, my friend,” Skerrit wrote, “we will need help of all kinds.”

In Puerto Rico, nearly 70,000 people remain without power following Hurricane Irma, and Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Monday warned of another widespread outage from Maria.

“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, according to CBS. Officials said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power on the island 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.

Maria is also expected to affect the Virgin Islands, and President Trump on Monday approved an emergency declaration for the U.S. Virgin Islands, ordering federal assistance to aid the response effort, the White House said in a statement. The action authorizes FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Jacob Bradley, an emergency response technician from Arkansas, told CBS News that all the critically ill patients are being airlifted out of the hurricane’s path. “It’s been bad. We’ve had six people laying in a restaurant because we couldn’t get them to a hospital,” he said. “I would say it compares to Katrina, definitely, if not worse.”

Catholic Relief Services is preparing to respond to the latest hurricane as well. Working with Caritas Antilles, CRS staff are on the ground in Tortola, a British Virgin Island which is in the storm’s projected path.

“People are hunkering down,” said Amanda Schweitzer, CRS’ emergency coordinator on Tortola. “After what they saw from Irma they are scared.”

CRS teams across the Caribbean – including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Lesser Antilles – have been working with partners on the ground to identify and respond to the biggest needs in the aftermath of Irma. In Tortola, as on many other islands, the scars from that storm are fresh and widespread.

“We are just getting prepared, trying to secure buildings that were damaged by Irma and getting supplies. Families are opening homes to neighbors and others whose homes were destroyed,” Schweitzer said.

Many are working to replace missing roofs with tarpaulins, but other houses are in ruins. The landscape is filled with debris and punctuated by cars that have been flipped upside down, destroyed boats, trees stripped of their leaves, she added.

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