Hurricane Maria live updates: Martinique spared, devastation in Dominica, Coast Guard to help in Puerto Rico

A powerful Hurricane Maria is sweeping across the Caribbean, dealing some islands a second blow just days after Hurricane Irma thrashed the region.

Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico just before dawn Wednesday as some 3.5 million people girded for a day of vicious winds and drenching rain expected to devastate the American territory. The Category 4 storm is expected to lash the island with winds of up to 160 miles per hour throughout Wednesday.

Maria left the islands of Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands in shambles.

Stay with the Miami Herald for the latest reports.

Cayman Islands opens its doors to impacted citizens of British Overseas Territories

5:31 p.m.: Spaces in government schools have been temporarily opened and school fees have been waived for British Overseas Territory evacuees who wish to attend the public schools. Students will be allowed to attend government schools for the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year. Students who wish to attend private schools must liaise directly with the private school and incur their specific fee requirements.


Help for the animals

5 p.m.: Global animal charities Humane Society International and H/3 Foundation Inc. had launched an animal rescue and relief initiative in the British Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. The team will remain in Tortola during Hurricane Maria and visited an animal shelter that was heavily damaged.

All the animals at the shelter survived the storm, but the team found them roaming or hiding within the destroyed structure. They were able to secure the 21 animals and are now caring for them at a lightly damaged veterinary facility that is serving as HSI’s base. Nine of the dogs were transported to a temporary boarding facility in the United States along with four owned but displaced animals — three dogs and one cat. HSI aims to reunite the displaced animals with their owners in the coming days.


Martinique avoids direct hit

4:50 p.m.: Martinique communications firm La Martinique reports that the French island of Martinique did not experience a direct hit by Maria and, as with Hurricane Irma, was spared after its close encounter with Maria.

Quoted by Reuters in a press briefing today in Paris, Jacques Witkowski, France’s head of civil protection and crisis response, said: “In Martinique, reconnaissance operations are still underway but already we can see that there is no significant damage.”

After an early statement related to Hurricane Irma, in which she expressed her deep sympathies and thoughts “to our brothers and sisters of the islands stricken by this unprecedented storm,” Karine Mousseau, Martinique Tourism Commissioner declared today: “We are all deeply saddened by the devastation experienced by Dominica, Martinique’s neighbor to the North, and pray that all of our friends who are now in the storm’s path will be spared the worst of this powerful hurricane.”

She went on to say: “In cooperation and with the assistance of the Martinique Prefecture, we will soon have a more detailed update. In the meanwhile there are two important facts to report: the Martinique Aimé Césaire International Airport re-opened this morning at 9:00 a.m. and ports are scheduled to re-open tomorrow.”


Dominican communications silenced

4:49 p.m.: Dominica remains isolated with no means of communications and transportation connections to the neighboring islands.

A french helicopter is on its way to the devastated eastern Caribbean country to provide assistance and facilitate the evaluation of the situation and the needs.


State of emergency and curfew set in Dominica

4:10 p.m.: The prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, officially declared a state of emergency and a curfew from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 8 a.m. Thursday.


DOD helicopters now sheltered and ready to respond

2:45 p.m.: Department of Defense helicopters are sheltering at the Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen/Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, for a quick response to needs after Maria.


Maria now a Category 3

2 p.m.: The National Hurricane Center’s latest advisory put Hurricane Maria just offshore of the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico with sustained winds of 115 miles-per-hour. The storm is now a Category 3.

Read full story here.


Maria ‘takes her time’

1:22 p.m.: Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei updated her Twitter feed from Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon. “Feel like I could just repost this every hour. Though fewer whistling winds. Which is ... some sort of progress.” Her earlier tweet, at 11:51 a.m., read: “More sideways rain and whistling winds in Guaynabo. Maria takes her time.”

Read full story here.


Dominica’s prime minister takes to Facebook, seeks helicopters to survey lands

1:09 p.m.: Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning and spoke of “widespread devastation. “So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace.”

He seeks support of “friendly nations and organizations” with helicopters. “I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed.”


Copa Airlines halts flights to islands impacted by Maria

12:44 p.m.: Copa Airlines released a statement alerting passengers that the majority of operations to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday and Thursday have been canceled due to Hurricane Maria. Passengers who were scheduled to travel between Sept. 19 and 26 can make changes to their itineraries through Oct. 16, 2017, without incurring penalties or additional costs. Passengers will have until Sept. 25 to make these changes and the changes will be subject to the ability of flights. In the case of flights canceled due to the hurricane, passengers can also request a full reimbursement of the cost of their ticket.

For more information on flight status visit


Images, messages flood into social media of devastation in the Caribbean

11:53 p.m.: Twitter and Facebook is filling with posts and images of the destruction in Dominica from Maria.

Anita Duenas, in Fort Myers, has been texting her cousin Sonia Pérez, who lives in a neighborhood of San Juan called Hato Rey. “My poor cousin is in the 12th floor of a bldg in PR right now. She said she can feel it moving. They’re saying they’ll have to spend the whole day waiting for it to pass. So scary,” she posted. “About four hours ago she felt the building rocking back and forth and the winds howling. She is saying that it’s been many hours in the high winds and one expects almost anything to happen from hour to hour. She is feeling mentally drained.”


Puerto Rico expected to lose all communication after Irma, Maria

10: 31 a.m.: Hurricane Maria has inflicted a devastating blow to Puerto Rico’s already damaged region, with as much as 90 percent of the island now without electricity, according to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

Even before the storm, more than 70,000 Puerto Ricans were without power after Hurricane Irma sideswiped the island.

Most cell towers and other forms of communications are also down, Rosello told El Nuevo Dia late on Wednesday morning, speaking via a land line.

“We should expect that at some point we will lose 100 percent communication,” he said.

Emergency managers had been able to communicate with people on the island of Culebra via radio and satellite communications. So far, there’s been no word from the island of Vieques, he said.

Storm surge is estimated at between five to seven feet, and waves topping 20 feet have hit the shore, he said.

“This has been a high-danger event. Many people heard or felt the winds. The system is still going on, even as the eye is moving across,” he said. “The truth is the danger continues. It’s going to keep raining hard. Flood zones are at critical levels. We’re still going to have a full day of rain. The tail of the hurricane is going to lash Puerto Rico, bringing more rains and more winds.”


Caribbean diplomats, leaders alter attendance plans for UN General Assembly

10: 25: With the Caribbean still reeling from Hurricane Irma, and now Hurricane Maria as it follows a similar path, several Caribbean diplomats and leaders have either canceled, delayed or cut short their appearance at this year’s United Nations General Assembly. The latest: Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, secretary-general of the 15-member Caribbean Community economic and political bloc.

LaRocque at present is trying to get into storm-ravaged Dominica, where Hurricane Maria made landfall prior to heading to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Many of the islands battered by the recent hurricanes are either members or associate members of the regional bloc.


Dominica devastated, seven confirmed dead, urgent need for supplies

10 a.m.: According to an email sent out by a man identifying himself as a principal adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, and reported on ABS Television/Radio on Facebook, Skerrit spoke by satellite phone at 4:30 a.m.

Skerrit said his family is fine but Dominica is not. Tremendous loss of housing and public buildings. The main general hospital took a beating. Patient care has been compromised. Many buildings serving as shelters lost roofs, which means that a very urgent need now is tarpaulins and other roofing materials.

Little contact has been made with the outer communities but persons who walked 10 and 15 miles towards the city of Roseau from various outer districts report total destruction of homes, some roadways and crops. Urgent helicopter services are needed to take food, water and tarpaulins to outer districts for shelter.

Canefield airport can accommodate helicopter landings and it is expected that from today, the waters around the main Roseau port will be calm enough to accommodate vessels bringing relief supplies and other forms of assistance, the email read.

“It’s difficult to determine the level of fatalities but so far seven are confirmed as a direct result of the hurricane. That figure, the prime minister fears, will rise as he wades his way into the rural communities today,” the email read.

Urgent needs are roofing materials for shelters, bedding supplies for hundreds stranded in or outside of what is left of their homes, and food and water drops for residents of outlying districts inaccessible at the moment.

The tarmac at Mellville Hall was not too badly damaged so the strip should be opened in a day or two for larger relief planes to land, according to the site.

“In summary, the island has been devastated. The housing stock significantly damaged or destroyed. All available public buildings are being used as shelters; with very limited roofing materials evident. The country needs the support and continued help and prayers of all.”


Other troops on standby to swing into action once Maria cleared Puerto Rico

9:14 p.m.: Troops on standby included about 300 soldiers and Marines at the Muñiz air base, adjacent to the civilian airport in San Juan. The forces had deployed there from Soto Cano, Honduras, to help St. Martin recover from Irma but on Tuesday had to suspend their so-called Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands operations and move their eight helicopters, from Chinooks to Black Hawks, about 70 miles west to a hardened hangar in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

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 halting for Hurricane Maria.

“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.”


Veterinarians and animal care specialists on duty in the British Virgin Islands

8:53 a.m.: Humane Society International has a team of veterinarians and animal care specialists leading the rescue and care of animals in the British Virgin Islands. Upon arrival, they visited an animal shelter that had received heavy damage from Hurricane Maria. All the animals at the shelter survived the storm, but the team found them roaming around or hiding within the destroyed structure.

They were able to secure all 21 animals and are now caring for them at a lightly damaged veterinary facility that is serving as HSI’s base. Nine of the dogs were transported to a temporary boarding facility in the United States along with four owned but displaced animals — three dogs and one cat. HSI will reunite the displaced animals with their owners in the coming days.

In addition, the team has been providing emergency veterinary care as well as food and other supplies for pets and livestock.


Coast Guard ready to help in Puerto Rico

8:25 a.m.: The Coast Guard had helicopters, cutters and airplanes on standby for search-and-rescue operations once Maria left Puerto Rico, including two Clearwater based HH-60 Jayhawks and a Miami based HC-144 Ocean Sentry twin-engine plane from Miami at Guantanamo.

On the island, the Coast Guard had three HH-65 Dolphin helicopters that can med-evac people at the ready and more Dolphins on the flight decks of cutters in the area.


Residents of St. Croix and U.S. Virgin Islands warned: “This is a moving, living creature.”

7:12 a.m.: An hour after residents of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands received a flash flood alert pinged on their cellular phone, the territory's Gov. Kenneth Mapp reported that Hurricane Maria was just 30 miles south-southeast of St. Croix and packing maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour. He warned residents to be vigilant throughout the night as hurricane force winds hit the low-lying island.

“Don’t be asleep. It’s okay to rest, but be vigilant and aware of what’s going on around your property,” Mapp said.

At the time, Hurricane Maria was going through an “eye replacement” process, in which the current eye was getting smaller, and being replaced by a larger eye — an indication that the storm is strengthening, Mapp told islanders.

He warned that hurricane force winds may be experienced beyond the original forecast of 4 a.m., until 5 to 6 a.m., after which tropical storm conditions will prevail.

“This is a moving, living creature,” he said, explaining flash floods were expected on St. Croix and a tremendous amount of rain will collect across the entire Territory.

Four hours later at 3 a.m., Mapp reported that the wind intensity on St. Croix was beginning to lessen, however, stronger gusts will continue.

“Within the hour, you will experience noticeable difference,” he told his constituents. “Not safe to venture out, debris still airborne.”


Majority of buildings in Dominica are damaged

6:58 a.m.: The first aerial footage of Dominica after Hurricane Maria shows extensive damage, with many roofs blown off by the powerful storm. The footage was done by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), which left Barbados late Tuesday with relief supplies for the Caribbean island.

“Dominica Initial situation overview indicates 70 to 80 percent damage to building stock, damage to hospital, roads and bridges,” Ronald Jackson, the head of CDEMA, said.


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