Hurricane Maria cripples Dominica as it churns toward Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria has pounded Dominica with "widespread devastation" as it barrels toward St. Croix and threatens catastrophic damage to Puerto Rico.
Hurling winds of 160 mph (257 kph), Maria shredded the Dominica Prime Minister's house overnight and left much of the island -- population 73,000 -- in ruins.
"Initial reports are of widespread devastation," Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook early Tuesday.
"So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is ... news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains."
A few hours earlier, the Prime Minister posted, "My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding."
Maria is now the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in Dominica, a former French and British colony with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and agriculture.
Now, it's taking aim on Puerto Rico and Islands already crippled by Hurricane Irma.
'Don't go out under any circumstances'
As of 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, Maria was centered about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix and was headed west-northwest at 10 mph.
While Maria moves closer to St. Croix, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, preparations against life-threatening storm surge, flooding and destructive winds "should be rushed to completion,' the National Hurricane Center said.
A hurricane warning is in effect Tuesday for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
"A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels in the hurricane warning area near where the center of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands and the British Virgin Islands," the hurricane center said.
Guadeloupe's regional government tweeted a stern warning to residents Tuesday: "Don't go out under any circumstances."
Puerto Rico says Maria 'will be catastrophic'
After crossing St. Croix, Maria will head toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday as "an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane," the National Hurricane Center said.
That would make Maria the first Category 4 or 5 hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years.