- Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico on Wednesday, making landfall as a powerful Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. It left 100% of the island without power.
- At least 26 people have been killed by the storm so far on its journey through the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma.
- Hurricane conditions are currently being felt in Turks and Caicos, though the storm is expected to weaken in the coming days.
Hurricane Maria is crawling past the Turks and Caicos islands with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph.
The storm is moving northwest at 7 mph, after causing widespread destruction in Puerto Rico and bringing hurricane conditions to the Dominican Republic. Hurricane warnings are currently in effect for Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas.
The storm has left at least 26 people dead in the Caribbean so far, according to reports, but that toll is expected to climb as recovery efforts continue. Luckily, Maria is expected to turn north today and this weekend, avoiding landfall on other islands or the continental US. The National Hurricane Center expects the storm to weaken gradually over the next two days.
Earlier this week, Maria pounded Puerto Rico for hours as the third-strongest storm ever to hit a US territory. Reports described intense damage on the island. Cellphone communications failed as towers went down. The Puerto Rican emergency-management agency said 100% of the island was without power by Wednesday afternoon and that Maria had damaged "everything in its path," according to reports.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia RawlinsAccording to the NHC, the eye of the "potentially catastrophic" storm is expected to move away from Turks and Caicos today, and pass northeast of the Bahamas through the weekend. The storm's hurricane-force winds extend 70 miles from its center.
The NHC warned that preparations for life-threatening storm surge, rainfall flooding, and destructive winds "should be rushed to completion" in the southeastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Those areas could see 9- to 12-foot storm surges above normal tide levels.
Maria is expected to drop 8 to 16 inches of rain on Turks and Caicos through Saturday, with isolated areas seeing up to 20 inches. Rain is still falling in Puerto Rico as well, with the island forecast to get an additional 3 to 6 inches through tomorrow. The NHC estimates that parts of the island could see rainfall totals of 40 inches by the time the storm has passed.
It looks increasingly unlikely that the continental US will end up in Maria's path, since models project the hurricane will stay out at sea. Swells generated by the storm should reach portions of the US' southeastern coast today, however.
National Hurricane Center
Conditions in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
Maria caused widespread destruction as it engulfed Puerto Rico, where residents were just starting to recover from Hurricane Irma. The island avoided a direct hit from Irma, but its powerful storm surge and winds still caused many residents to lose power.
Maria's direct hit was devastating.
"The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer here," Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told MSNBC on Wednesday night of the island's capital. The mayor said Puerto Rico, home to some 3.5 million people, was "looking at four to six months without electricity."
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia RawlinsWind gauges throughout the island broke, making it impossible to know just how strong the most intense gusts were at the height of the storm.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico announced Wednesday afternoon that he was instituting a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
The director of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said on CNN on Wednesday morning that 3,200 agency staff members were in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands with supplies, and that they were better prepared in the areas before this storm than they were when Irma hit.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday signed a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, making federal disaster-relief funding available to much of the island.
Before the storm arrived the public safety commissioner of Puerto Rico had told those in evacuation zones: "You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you're going to die."
'Take this event seriously'
Maria first made landfall on the island of Dominica on Monday night. Although the destruction is still being assessed, Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, wrote on his Facebook page: "Initial reports are of widespread devastation ... The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with."
The hurricane was the first Category 5 storm in recorded history to hit Dominica, which is home to roughly 70,000 people. The last and only Category 4 storm to directly hit the island nation, Hurricane David in 1979, killed more than 50 people and left 60,000 homeless.
"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," Skerrit wrote on Facebook.
The bands of the storm also slammed the nearby island of Guadeloupe, causing serious flooding, damage to buildings, and widespread power losses.
REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
Maria lost some strength as its eye moved over Dominica but quickly regained its Category 5 status.
On the islands of St. Thomas and St. John in the US Virgin Islands, residents were urged to leave their homes for government shelters, since Irma damaged many houses.
Trump also approved an emergency declaration for the Virgin Islands on Monday, giving FEMA the go-ahead to coordinate disaster relief efforts there. Some of the soldiers who came to the Virgin Islands to provide relief after Irma were evacuated.
"Take this event seriously," Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the US Virgin Islands said at a press conference Sunday. "You cannot stay in those facilities. You will not survive."
He urged people who decided to stay in their homes to write their Social Security numbers on their bodies so they could be identified easily in a worst-case scenario.
St. Croix, the most populated of the US Virgin Islands, took a hit from the outer eyewall, to the right of Maria's eye. According to reports, vegetation was stripped bare by the storm, wind measurement equipment failed, and many were left without power.
An unusually active hurricane season
Maria is the seventh hurricane of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season, making this only the ninth year on record with seven hurricanes by September 17. There have been 13 named storms so far — the average by September 18 is 7.6.
This season is also significantly ahead of the average measures for major hurricane days and accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of storm strength, duration, and frequency). Maria is pushing those measures even further ahead.
On September 15, Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project issued a two-week forecast of above-normal cyclone activity for the Atlantic basin.
Jose, which was a Category 4 hurricane at its peak but is now a post-tropical cyclone, is still churning near the East Coast but should stay offshore. The storm is nonetheless bringing tropical storm conditions — including winds, rainfall, and dangerous surf — to southern New England.
Erin Brodwin, Rebecca Harrington, Bryan Logan, and Dana Varinsky contributed to this post.
- People in Puerto Rico describe devastation after 6 days without basic resources: 'The people that are outside know more than the people that are there'
- Tropical Storm Jose is bringing dangerous surf, rip currents, and wind to the East Coast
- How to track the path of Hurricane Maria, which is now hitting Puerto Rico