UPDATE: Hurricane Maria destroys buildings, floods homes across Puerto Rico

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - UPDATE: 9/20/2017, 1:22 P.M.

Hurricane Maria roared ashore in Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm, ripping roofs off buildings, flooding homes, and cutting power to millions across the U.S. territory.

Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph as it made landfall near the town of Yabucoa in the southeast just after 6 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said. As of 10 a.m., the eye of the storm hovered over the capital of San Juan.

"Half of San Juan is flooded at this point, and we're looking at four to six months without electricity," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC, adding that the devastation in her city was unlike any she had ever seen.

Maria was a Category 5 hurricane — the strongest there is — when it hit the Caribbean on Monday night, killing at least seven people on the island of Dominica and one person on Guadeloupe. At least two people were injured.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters Tuesday that Maria "promises to be much more devastating" than Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 70 people as it plowed through the Caribbean and the southeastern United States earlier this month.

"If you are in a flood zone, your life is in danger," Rosselló said. "If you are in a wooden house, your life is in danger."

The storm is expected to bring up to 25 inches of rain to Puerto Rico and some 16 inches to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The islands could also see several tornadoes throughout Wednesday.

Related: Struggling After Irma, Islanders Lament Round Two

More than 10,000 islanders were in shelters early Monday, Rosselló said, as thousands of others scrambled to evacuate.

President Donald Trump has declared states of emergency in both territories, and the Coast Guard has moved all its ships, aircraft and personnel out of harm's way so they can quickly launch rescue missions once the storm passes, officials said.

Hurricane warnings also went up in the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata. Maria was expected to skirt just north of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night and Thursday, according to forecasters.

The last time the region was threatened by a storm this powerful was in 1928, when the Okeechobee Hurricane roared through the Virgin Islands and slammed Puerto Rico. It killed more than 300 people there and left a trail of destruction from one end of the island to the other before heading on to Florida.

In the end, it wound up being one of the deadliest hurricanes on record to hit North America, killing more than 4,000 people — most of them poor black residents who lived near Lake Okeechobee in South Florida and whose bodies were buried in mass graves.


ORIGINAL STORY: 9/19/2017, 8:00 A.M.

Forecasters say potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria is heading toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. that the extremely dangerous Category 5 storm is on a forecast track approaching the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico between Tuesday night and Wednesday.

The top sustained winds of the storm are near 160 mph (260 kph) and the Miami-based center says some fluctuations in intensity are likely over the coming days. At 8 a.m., the eye of Maria was about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of Guadeloupe or about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix. The major hurricane is moving to the west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Meanwhile, Jose remained a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic as it churned up dangerous surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast. It was about 350 miles (560 kilometers south-southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and had top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

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7 a.m.

The surf remains rough along the New Jersey shore and there's a chance for some coastal flooding because of Jose. But the strong winds associated with the hurricane are well off the coast.

A high surf advisory remains in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday and a coastal flood warning is posted until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Wave heights off the coast could build to 15 feet (4.5 meters), while breaking waves along the coast are expected to reach 8 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters). A high risk for rip currents continues.

Minor flooding is expected during the morning high tide and moderate flooding is anticipated during the evening. Widespread roadway flooding is expected and minor property damage is possible.
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6:15 a.m.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skeritt says there are initial reports of "widespread devastation" in the small island from Hurricane Marie.

The prime minister says he will be going around the country to see what has happened and what is needed as soon as the all-clear sign is given. But that his "greatest fear" is that the people of Dominica will wake to news of "serious physical injury and possible deaths."

He made the statement in a post on his Facebook page while the storm was still raging.

At one point, he lost the roof to his own official residence. He also said that the winds have swept away the roofs of many other people. He says his initial focus will be to rescue trapped people and secure medical aid for the injured.
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5:10 a.m.

Hurricane Maria has regained Category 5 strength, upping its top wind speeds after it had briefly dropped to a Category 4 storm overnight near the island of Dominica.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says a hurricane hunter plane checking on Maria after it pounded that small Caribbean island says the storm strengthened anew early Tuesday and again has top sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph). The storm was located early Tuesday about 65 miles (100 kilometers) west-southwest of another Caribbean island, Guadeloupe. It's moving to the west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Forecasters say a Category 5 hurricane is a major and extremely dangerous storm capable of catastrophic winds. They add that fluctuations in intensity were expected and that further strengthening is possible as the storm moves over warm Carinbbean waters in coming hours and days.

Elsewhere, in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is producing dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the United States. Forecasters say that storm is centered about 240 miles (390 kilometers) east-northeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina - or about 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. It's moving to the north at 9 mph (15 kph) with top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).
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2:45 a.m.

Hurricane Maria, after pounding Dominica with high winds, has weakened slightly to a still extremely dangerous Category 4 major storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Tuesday that top sustained winds had fallen slightly to 155 mph (250 kph). It says high winds are now beginning to diminish over Dominica and that the eye of Maria is now about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west-northwest of that small Caribbean island. The storm is moving west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph) on a course that threatens other areas of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose continues to move north over the Atlantic, churning up dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the United States. That storm was located at 2 a.m. about 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts.
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12:10 a.m.

Hurricane Maria swept over the small island of Dominica with catastrophic winds overnight, starting a charge into the eastern Caribbean that threatens islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma and holds the possibility of a direct hit on Puerto Rico.

Fierce winds and driving rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours, causing flooding and tearing roofs from homes. A police official on the island, Inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was still too dangerous for officers to do a full assessment as the storm raged outside.

"Where we are, we can't move," he said in a brief phone interview while hunkered down against the region's second Category 5 hurricane this month.

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