Last night, Hurricane Maria followed on the heels of not one, but two storms to already batter the Caribbean this fall, leaving a wake of destruction on the islands of Dominica and Guadeloupe.
Maria, a Category 5 storm, was upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane in just over a day, and is one of the fastest intensifying hurricanes ever recorded, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.
Meteorologists forecasted that the storm is expected to hit the Virgin Islands by Tuesday afternoon and Puerto Rico late Tuesday, still as a Category 5. They warned the storm could be “potentially catastrophic” and leave parts of the US territories completely “uninhabitable for months.”
Hurricane warnings are now in effect for Puerto Rico, its satellite islands of Vieques and Culebra, and the US Virgin Islands.
Dominica, on the other hand, had very little time to prepare for “the strongest storm of their lifetimes,” Karins said.
The prime minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, wrote in a Facebook post that his roof had been blown off, that his home was flooded, and that he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane” after Maria made landfall late Monday night.
“Initial reports are of widespread devastation,” Skerrit wrote in a later post after his rescue. “So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.”
As of early Tuesday morning, phone and internet signals on the island nation of 72,000 appeared to be down, as well as radio. Airports and seaports will likely be shut down for days, Skerrit warned.
The immediate priority, however, is to deploy rescue missions and provide medical care to those injured and trapped in the rubble, Skerrit said.
“I am honestly not preoccupied with the physical damage at this time,” he added. “We will need help my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”
As daylight brought with it destruction and disaster, the prime minister has solicited the support of “friendly nations and organizations.”
Traditionally a small farming nation, Dominica’s economy is largely based on its agricultural sector, which is at risk of destruction from unpredictable storms. In 2007, Hurricane Dean, a Category 5, struck and caused the island nearly $60 million worth of damage to farmland and homes.
That’s nearly 24% of the country’s GDP.
The damage led to large cuts in funding to several sectors across the nation, including education and medical care. As a result, today, an average of 50% of Dominica’s children live in poverty.
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The governor of the US Virgin Islands has suspended all Hurricane Irma recovery efforts to shift the focus on preparing for Maria, and US President Donald Trump declared states of emergency in both US Caribbean territories on Monday.
The Coast Guard is moving personnel and aircrafts to both territories in preparation for storm surges forecast to be as high as nine feet, reported NBC News.
Meanwhile, British and Dutch foreign ministers have met with the United Nations’ Under-Secretary General for the Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in New York to ask for financial help to repair damages from Irma, which killed at least 37, and any hurricanes that follow.
So far, the UN has pledged nearly $14 million to Caribbean islands.
“We will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of the Caribbean to ensure maximum support is available to the commendable national and regional efforts,” the Under-Secretary General said.