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‘Potentially Catastrophic’ Maria Targets Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico

Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 – 10:38 AM

Hurricane Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday after battering the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica, with the US National Hurricane Center warning of a “potentially catastrophic” impact.

“Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches” the British and US territories late Tuesday, the NHC said.

Maria was at a maximum Category 5 when it hit Dominica with winds of up to 160 miles (257 kilometres) per hour.

“We have lost all what money can buy and replace,” Dominica’s premier Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook, saying there were initial reports of “widespread devastation”.

“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.”

Earlier, he said his roof had been blown off and house flooded, leaving him “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”.

The airport and ports have been closed on the tropical island of 72,000 people.

The British Virgin Islands, still mopping up after Hurricane Irma earlier this month, have been under curfew since Monday, with residents ordered to stay indoors.

“Our islands are extremely vulnerable right now,” the territory’s premier Orlando Smith said in a statement, warning that the storm could turn debris left by Irma into dangerous projectiles.

– ‘Everything shaking’ –

The French territory of Guadeloupe — the bridgehead for aid for Irma-hit French territories — was in the eye of the storm on Tuesday.

Heavy rain lashed the island and several areas were without power.

“Everything around me is shaking,” former French minister Victorin Lurel told BFMTV from his home in the south of the island of 400,000 people. 

“Weather conditions remain very bad, with rain and ocean swells increasing the risk of flooding and landslides,” the local government said. “Winds are still very violent.”

Many trees have fallen across roads and around 80,000 homes are without power, it said in a statement.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 110 more soldiers would be deployed to the region to reinforce a 3,000-strong team already on hand to shore up security, rebuild infrastructure and distribute aid after Irma.

The Dominican Republic, whose east coast was battered by Irma, ordered citizens in part of the north to evacuate ahead of Maria’s arrival.

St Kitts and Nevis, the British island of Montserrat, Culebra and Vieques are also on alert.

– Preparing for the worst –

Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean.

“We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst,” said Chris Austin, head of a UK military task force set up to deal with Irma.

On the island of St Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, authorities announced the maximum “violet” alert ahead of Maria’s arrival, as well as for nearby St Barts.

Top local official Anne Laubies said she would “normally” not make the call, under which residents are required to stay indoors.

“But given the fragility of dwellings and the debris that remains (from Irma), I don’t want to take a risk.”

Another local official, Daniel Gibbs, said: “People have to stay indoors until tomorrow because any flying object can be fatal.”

The Dutch navy tweeted that troops were heading to the two tiny neighbouring islands of Saba and St Eustatius to ensure security following widespread complaints after the first hurricane of looting and lawlessness on St Martin, among the worst hit by Irma with 14 killed.

– Hurricane series – 

Irma left around 40 people dead altogether in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 Monday.

It broke records when it whipped up winds of 295 kilometres per hour for more than 33 hours straight.

French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking in New York where he is attending the UN General Assembly, said the lethal sequence of hurricanes is “one of the direct consequences of global warming”. 

The French leader said he had spoken to US President Donald Trump about the issue earlier Tuesday.

Macron hosted Trump in Paris in July when he sought to persuade the US leader to reconsider his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.


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