A little more than a week after Hurricane Irma slashed through the Caribbean and glanced southeast Florida with hurricane-force gusts, Hurricane Maria is sweeping through the northeast Caribbean Sea, dealing some islands a second blow. Dominica and Guadeloupe were hammered Monday night with Category 5 winds that ripped off rooftops and toppled trees, and the eye of the storm is forecast to pass over or near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Wednesday.
Stay with the Miami Herald for the latest reports.
First Maria-related fatality in Guadeloupe
3:50 p.m.: Local officials in Guadeloupe said one person was killed by a falling tree in the overseas French territory.
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Two others were missing after their ship sank near La Désirade, an island that is part of Guadeloupe.
In Dominica, where the storm made landfall Monday night, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said he feared Dominicans might be injured or killed after the storm by likely landslides as the island deals with torrential rains.
— MIMI WHITEFIELD
St. Croix readies for a direct hit and Haiti issues first phase of hurricane alert
3:21 p.m.: U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp said that the island of St. Croix was preparing for a worst-case impact from Hurricane Maria Tuesday afternoon, as the storm approached from about 110 miles southeast of the island around 2 p.m.
"The eye wall of the hurricane is expected to cross the southwest of St. Croix sometime tonight, meaning the island of St. Croix will take a direct hit," he said.
Tropical storm-force winds were forecast to to begin on the island between 2 to 4 p.m., with hurricane-force winds expected around 10 p.m. to midnight. Those winds are expected to abate between 6 and 8 a.m., Mapp added.
Forecasters are predicting 18 to 25 inches of rainfall on the island, and storm surges from 6 to 9 feet, he said. Some parts of St. Croix could see even higher surges, he said.
St. Thomas can expect tropical storm force winds around 8 to 10 p.m., with those winds abating around 2 to 4 a.m., Mapp added.
Mapp urged people to think twice about riding out the storm alone and said the number of people using shelter on the islands was expanding ahead of the storm.
"Bring a folding chair," he said. "Bring your comfort food. If you're bringing children, bring something to occupy them. We're prepared to house these folks -- we're glad people are taking our advice."
In Haiti, residents living in the country's northern region could start to feel the effects of Maria as early as Wednesday. Individuals living in areas at risk of flooding and mudslides were told Tuesday to begin making preparation to evacuate as the country moved from pre-alert to the first phase of its hurricane warning alert.
— ELIZABETH KOH AND JACQUELINE CHARLES
In St. Kitts and Nevis, "the rain is still coming down very hard. The wind is howling."
2:01 p.m.: Foreign Minister Mark Brantley told the Miami Herald the rains and winds have been relentless since they started at 3 a.m in the eastern Caribbean twin island nation.
"This storm is very slow moving," Brantley said over the telephone.
So far he wasn't aware of any deaths in the country but preliminary reports indicate there is damage to powerlines and other infrastructure and homes.
"The rain is still coming down very hard. The wind is howling."
Unsure of what Maria's impact will be in St. Kitts and Nevis Brantley said he can only describe this hurricane season as "catastrophic" for the region.
Naming all the islands hit so far, he said "and now the damage to Dominica, we have heard is horrific."
"The situation there is quite tragic," he said.
— JACQUELINE CHARLES
Hurricane Maria closes in on Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
2:00 p.m.: A “potentially catastrophic” Hurricane Maria closed in on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Tuesday afternoon, after marching through the northeastern Caribbean overnight and leaving scenes of devastation in its wake.
The National Weather Service’s San Juan station reported local islands had begun seeing Maria’s outer bands with torrential rainfall and gusting winds midday Tuesday, and forecasters warned of storm surge as high as nine feet above normal tide levels. The nearby Dominican Republic can expect tropical-storm force conditions to reach it as early as Wednesday morning.
The Meteorological Service of the Dominican Republic issued a hurricane warning from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata, and also issued a tropical storm warning west of Puerto Plata to the northern border and Haiti, and west of Cabo Engano to Punta Palenque.
Soldiers and Marines suspend Irma relief operations to St. Martin
1:40 p.m.: In San Juan on Tuesday, in anticipation of Hurricane Maria, about 300 soldiers and Marines who were based at the Muñiz air base, adjacent to the civilian airport in Isla Verde suspended their so-called Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands operations providing Irma relief to St. Martin.
The troops, normally based at Soto Cano in Honduras moved their eight helicopters, from Chinooks to Black Hawks – about 70 miles west to a hardened hangar in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico – while the forces were going to weather the storm in San Juan at the Puerto Rico National Guard's Muñiz airbase.
In St. Martin, the Marines and soldiers were making water through a portable purification system for both the Dutch and French side of the island, and had distributed about 4,500 gallons before suspending operations.
"As soon as Maria's over we're planning on getting back on that mission – unless we're tasked with something else," said Marine Capt. Jeremy Croft. "This is definitely a strange hurricane season."
— CAROL ROSENBERG
U.S. Virgin Islands governor: Maria is “going to be a terrible and devastating event”
11:29 a.m.: As Hurricane Maria continued to slowly make its way to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Tuesday, U.S. Virgin Islands officials warned residents to remain hunkered down, because the storm is "going to be a terrible and devastating event."
As of 11 a.m. Maria's eye is expected to pass over the southwest tip of the island of St. Croix, with propensity to strengthen, U.S. Virgin Islands Govenor Kenneth Mapp said in a press conference shortly after 11 a.m.
"That mans that the island of St. Croix from the eastern end to its western end is expected to experience the maximum sustained winds," Mapp said.
The storm posed a special threat for individuals living on the south shore of St. Croix, Mapp reiterated several times. The island could see between 12 and 18 inches of rainfall.
"As a result of the eye wall crossing the southwestern tip of St. Croix, we're now advising that we expect surge of the ocean at six feet to nine feet, and wave action coming upon the island on the coastal shores of the southern end of the island as high as 25 feet," Mapp said, calling it "disturbing news" for the low-lying U.S. territory.
"If you're living on the coastal and southern end of St. Croix on the shore line, you may want to think about making a last ditch effort for shelter," he told residents. "If you wish to make these decision, you've got less than two hours on St. Croix, less than two hours to decide whether you are going to stay in place or go to a shelter."
Mapp and other officials warned the population that Hurricane Maria, which has already tore through Dominica and triggered massive flooding in Guadeloupe, is not to be taken lightly.
"Folks, this is an extremely, extremely dangerous hurricane and it continues to inch its way over to St. Croix," Mapp said shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday in a press conference. "The mantra is shelter and protect yourselves."
According to the National Hurricane Center, Mapp said the radius of the storm was that hurricane force winds were 30 miles from the center; and tropical storm winds 130 miles from the center.
On Monday, Hurricane Maria's eye was within 10 miles south of St. Croix, he said. But now the eye is hitting St. Croix.
"If this storm continues to move toward the north before getting through the territory, Mapp said it could have adverse effects for St. John and Water Island.
Mapp said several U.S. governors had reached out to him pledging support including Florida Governor Rick Scott, who called and expressed his well wishes to the people of the territory.
Mapp recalled Scott told him, "Walloped twice in two weeks. I just can't imagine the challenges and the issues the people of the territory faced and wanted me to know anything at all the state of Florida or the people of Florida can do for the Virgin Islands to let him know."
Mapp said he had also tried to reach out to Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit but the lines were out. Skerrit had pledged his support to Mapp after St. Thomas was slammed by Irma, and Mapp said despite the devastation they were facing –once more – the Virgin Islands would support Dominica in any way it could.
— JACQUELINE CHARLES
Puerto Rico opens 500 shelters, but only about 300 people have taken refuge so far
11:29 a.m.: Puerto Rico has opened 500 shelters for those who are not already staying with friends or family before Hurricane Maria, but only about 300 people have taken refuge in them so far, authorities said.
“No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe II in 1928,” Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said in a statement urging residents to prepare and evacuate. “This is an unprecedented atmospheric system. I want to remind you that the Emergency Management team will not be available to help you once the winds reach 50 miles per hour. We need to keep in mind that we must also protect the lives of these first responders.”
The shelters can hold a total of 66,826 people and emergency capacity for 133,352 people, according to a statement from the government. Four shelters have reported taking in people so far – one, the Convention Center in Miramar is open for people who are bedridden or require special care.
Rosselló also denied social media rumors that water and power will be shut off on the island, though about 1,800 customers will be affected as the Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority takes steps to protect its generators this afternoon.
Airports in Ponce and Aguadilla will close today at 6:00 p.m., while the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport will close at 7:00 p.m., according to the statement.
In Dominica, another threat after Maria: landlides from torrential rains
11:21 a.m.: Mountainous Dominica, the southernmost of the Leeward Islands, escaped Irma’s wrath but Hurricane Maria’s 160 mph winds overwhelmed the small island, even tearing the roof from the prime minister’s home and leaving devastation in its path.
“Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on Facebook. Maria made landfall on the island about 8:50 p.m. Monday.
But beyond shredded foliage, downed trees and physical damages, what Skerrit said he feared most were injuries to Dominicans and possible deaths from likely landslides triggered by persistent rains. And that may not be apparent until rescue workers make their way into remote communities.
— MIMI WHITEFIELD AND JACQUELINE CHARLES
Maria continues inching toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
11:00 a.m.: At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Hurricane Maria had maximum sustained winds near 160 mph and was moving 10 mph with compact hurricane-force winds 35 miles out from the eye. Both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can expect to feel tropical storm conditions Tuesday afternoon, and forecasters warned of storm surge as high as nine feet.
In Guadeloupe, rivers run over and a dock splits in half
10:47 a.m.: While the storm wrecked havoc in Dominica, it also left a trail of disaster in Guadeloupe, where rivers overan their banks, trees blocked roads and a dock split in two at a marina.
The disaster management office in the Turks and Caicos said Tuesday that Maria is expected to pass north of the British Overseas Territory on Friday, with the eye passing closes to its capital, Grand Turk. The family island was recently devastated by Hurricane Irma.
— JACQUELINE CHARLES
St. Lucia given all-clear after Maria
10:18 a.m.: The St. Lucia Meteorological Services gave the eastern Caribbean island an all-clear Tuesday morning as Hurricane Maria continued to move toward Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was located nearly 200 miles northwest of the island.
The weather agency said small water crafts are advised to remain in ports and that moderate to heavy rainfall is still expected for the next day. Those in areas prone to flooding and landslides should also be cautious, it added.
Coast Guard closes all traffic for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
8:00 a.m.: The Coast Guard closed all inbound and outbound traffic for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Tuesday morning, warning gale-force conditions are expected to lash the islands Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Port condition ZULU – issued about 12 hours before gale-force winds are expected to hit – prohibits any vessels from entering or leaving the ports and suspends ship-to-shore operations until further notice.
The Coast Guard urged the public to stay off the water and avoid beaches, as well as secure their belongings and heed any evacuation orders.
— ELIZABETH KOH
In Dominica, rooftops ripped off and widespread wreckage
7:02 a.m.: Maria made landfall on the island of Dominica Monday night, and residents there woke up to yet another scene of devastation Tuesday as the storm left a trail of widespread wreckage. Maria’s Category 5 winds uprooted trees and ripped off rooftops including that of the official residence of the country's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, and triggering an avalanche of those torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside.
Skerrit, who described the storm on his official Facebook page as “Rough! Rough! Rough!” was eventually rescued as the violent rains and winds battered his mountainous island paradise.
Shortly before communication went down at 3 a.m. after the eye had passed, Skerrit described Maria's impact.
“We have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he said in a post. “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,” he added.
The last time a storm unleashed such massive destruction on Dominica was Hurricane David, a deadly Category 4 storm that created massive devastation and loss of lives in the Caribbean region in 1979.
In 2015, Dominica was hit by Tropical Storm Erika, which tore across the island and left at least 20 people dead as it dumped 10 inches of rain. The devastation was so costly that last year the island wasn't prepared to host a gathering of 15 Caribbean Community leaders, forcing the meeting to be held in Guyana.
Prior to Hurricane Maria's arrival, Skerrit warned Dominicans not to take the storm lightly and for those living in flood-prone communities to evacuate.
While there have been reports of injuries, it's unclear whether there are any deaths as a result of the storm. Skerrit said the focus this morning, once the all clear is given, will be to search for any persons who are injured and those trapped in the rubble.
“I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating ... indeed, mind boggling,” he said. “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.
“It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days. That is why I am eager now to solicit the support of friendly nations and organisations [sic] with helicopter services, for I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what's needed,” he said.
As the hurricane moved upward, St. Kitts and Nevis Foreign Minister Mark Brantley posted a video clip on Twitter of trees blowing in the tiny island of Nevis, birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, creator of the American economic system and one of the nation's Founding Fathers.
At 5 a.m., he said, St. Kitts and Nevis, which was forced to cancel independence day celebrations today, was being “pummeled by howling winds and torrential rain.”
“We pray for the morning sun and its revelations,” he tweeted.
— JACQUELINE CHARLES