Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean nation of Dominica as a category-5 storm late Monday, packing wind speeds of 260 kilometres per hour and forcing the prime minister to be rescued after his home was damaged.
“My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding,” Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on his official Facebook page, adding later he had been rescued.
“We do not know what is happening outside,” Skerrit wrote. “We dare not look out. All we are hearing is the sound of galvanized flying. The sound of the fury of the wind. As we pray for its end!”
Storm swells were worst on the Atlantic side of the island, but the capital Roseau had also been heavily hit, reports on local radio station Q95FM said. There were multiple reports that the roof had blown off the city’s main hospital.
Maria made landfall on Dominica around 9:15 pm (0115 GMT Tuesday), after being upgraded to a category 5 hurricane, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
The agency called the storm “extremely dangerous” and “potentially catastrophic.”
Earlier, US President Donald Trump declared an emergency in the territory of the US Virgin Islands and on Puerto Rico as a result of the approaching hurricane and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
The US hurricane agency already had identified Maria as an “extremely dangerous” category 4 hurricane in its 5 pm (2100 GMT) statement, saying the eye was expected to pass near Dominica within hours.
Sea waves up to 9 metres high could be expected in the evening in seas north and east of Martinique.
Local authorities in Guadeloupe, further north, planned a red alert from midday, and said all workplaces would be closed until further notice.
Residents were urged to ensure they had enough supplies for several days and that their houses or shelters were safe. Those living by the seaside, near watercourses or on steep ground were instructed to go to shelters opened in safer locations.
Meteo France said the Guadeloupe archipelago could see waves up to 10 metres high, with winds gusting at up to 200 kilometres per hour and heavy rain that could lead to floods.
Maria could be a direct threat Tuesday to Montserrat and Saint Kitts and Nevis, and by Wednesday to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the service said. All were under a hurricane warning along with the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Irma left dozens dead across the Caribbean and in the US state of Florida. Hurricane Jose passed close by Caribbean islands days later, but with less impact.
Now at category 1, Jose is several hundred kilometres off Cape Hatteras and moving north. The storm is expected to deliver tropical storm conditions late Tuesday and Wednesday to Long Island and the New England coastline, with a chance of isolated flooding caused by 5 to 12 centimetres of rain.