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'Potentially Catastrophic' Hurricane Maria Poised to Slam Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria spins southeast of Puerto Rico on Sept. 19, 2017. (NOAA via AP)

Soon after surviving a brush with Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico was bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island of Dominica after a Category 5 landfall Monday evening.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on his Facebook page as the storm with 160 mph winds tore through, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” He added later, “I have been rescued.”

As the worst of the storm passed, Skerrit posted a longer update: “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. 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.”

“So, far 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,” he said of the mountainous island. “…I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating…indeed, mind boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”

Dominica’s communications were cut off and the hurricane thrashed the airport and seaport.

The National Hurricane Center said “potentially catastrophic” Maria will pass “near” the U.S. Virgin Islands tonight and will make landfall at Puerto Rico Wednesday morning, with more than 15 inches of rain forecast for some areas of the U.S. territory. It could be the strongest hurricane to ever strike Puerto Rico.

“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane as it moves near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the NHC said. “Slow weakening is expected after the hurricane emerges over the Atlantic north of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.”

In a video address to Puerto Ricans today, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned “we have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history.”

“Without thinking twice Puerto Rico became the launchpad of America’s hurricane disaster rescue and recovery operation, and a Safe Haven for many left stranded by the fury of the hurricane in the neighboring islands,” he said. “Now we’re looking down the barrel of Maria, a historic category 5 hurricane. Although it looks like a direct hit with major damage to Puerto Rico is inevitable, I ask for America’s prayers.”

“My administration has done everything within our power to prepare for this event and to protect the lives of everyone in the island, including establishing over 500 shelters. We know this will be tough, but I have faith in our resiliency and capacity to rebuild,” Rosselló declared.

“No matter what happens here in the next 36 hours, Puerto Rico will survive, we will rebuild, we will recover and with your support, we will come out stronger than ever.”