Hurricane Maria bears down on Puerto Rico

NASA via AP THIS SATELLITE IMAGE provided by NASA shows the eye of Hurricane Maria as it nears Dominica. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found Maria had strengthened into a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds.

ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — Hurricane Maria smashed into Dominica with 160 mph winds, ripping the roof off even the prime minister’s residence and causing what he called “mind-boggling” devastation Tuesday as it plunged into a Caribbean region already ravaged by Hurricane Irma.

The storm was on a track to wallop Puerto Rico on Wednesday “with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations,” the territory’s governor said.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said on his Facebook page that “initial reports are of widespread devastation” and said he feared there would be deaths due to rain-fed landslides.

“So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” Skerrit wrote. “The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go.”

And he appealed for international aid:

“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”

Maria’s eye roared over the island late Monday night. The storm briefly dipped to Category 4 strength early Tuesday before regaining Category 5 status.

Fierce winds and rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours. A police official on the island, Inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday night that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was too dangerous for officers to check conditions.

“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.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of increasingly harrowing posts on Facebook.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs tearing off houses on the small rugged island.

He then wrote that he thought his home had been damaged, and added: “Rough! Rough! Rough!”

On the nearby island of Martinique, officials said about 25,000 households were without electricity and two small towns without water after Maria roared past.

The head of French civil security, Jacques Witkowski, told reporters that it was too soon to say whether the French department of Guadaloupe had fared as well.

Coastal flooding from Hurricane Jose has prompted North Carolina to close parts of the main highway on the Outer Banks.

The state transportation department says that parts of N.C. Highway 12 were closed by flooding Tuesday morning.

The agency says the road north of the Pea Island Visitors Center was temporarily closed until the tide subsides.

The ocean was washing over areas south of the Bonner Bridge to Cape Hatteras.

The department also said Monday that ocean overwash was occurring at Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon and Hatteras village on Hatteras Island.

A coastal flood warning was issued for Dare County on the Outer Banks through Tuesday night. Rip current warnings were posted from north of Wilmington to the Virginia state line.

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