HURRICANE Maria has grown into a Category 5 storm as the eye nears Dominica.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that air force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 260km/h winds.
The hurricane is about 25 kilometres east-southeast of Dominica and moving west-northwest at 15km/h.
Forecasters had predicted that the hurricane would grow even stronger, with the storm on a path that would take it near many of the islands already wrecked by Hurricane Irma, before moving to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
President Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands on Monday.
Dominica braced for Hurricane Maria on Monday as the “potentially catastrophic” Category Five storm bore down on the island nation, packing winds of 160 miles (257 kilometers) per hour.
Residents flocked to supermarkets to stock up on essentials as island officials warned people living in low-lying areas or along rivers to move to high ground.
“Just ready to ride out storm at best. With a little prayer on the side,” said school teacher Dominica Leandra Lander, a former Miss Dominica.
Lander collected water, charged her electronic devices and ensured her important documents were safe.
“My work place is secured and so is my home,” she said.
The island’s airport and ports have been closed, and the local water company shut down its systems to protect its intake valves from debris churned up by the storm.
Cat Clayton, who owns a hotel on the British Virgin Islands, told Sky News that it was now too late to escape – and that she was preparing to weather the storm from Tortola.
“It can’t get much worse that what it is,” she said. “We have to pull together as a community, as a family and just hunker down and get on with our days, get ready and prepared as we possibly can.”
Entire rooms had been ripped from Mrs Clayton’s building, she said, turning what had once been a tropical paradise into a wasteland.
“We got away with our lives and that’s the only thing that matters, we’re still alive and holding on,” she said. “There’s no chance to get out now so all we have to do is just prepare as best we can.”
Some 80% of all Tortola’s buildings were damaged or totally destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
The ever-growing hurricane trudging toward his island is bigger and potentially more destructive than any recent storms and could lay waste to huge swaths of the island, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Monday.
Hurricane Maria, expected to pound Puerto Rico by Wednesday with 150-mph winds, will flood some parts of the island, thoroughly destroy others and leave most of the nation of 3.4 million people without power, Rosselló said in an interview with USA TODAY.
“It will essentially devastate most of the island,” he said.
Puerto Rico is under the unique and challenging position of still recovering from Hurricane Irma — which skated near the country earlier this month but mostly spared the island from widespread damage — while simultaneously prepping for Maria.
The 450 shelters opened for Irma will remain in place and except thousands of residents fleeing flood-prone areas, such as Ponce to the south and Bayamón to the north. U.S. assets, such as on-the-ground FEMA officials and U.S. search-and-rescue teams, will stay in Puerto Rico to facilitate response and recovery efforts through Maria, he said.
At the docks of this Caribbean outpost, families with dogs and cats in carriers waited under a blazing tropical sun beside the wrecks of pleasure boats tossed ashore by Hurricane Irma.
Another hurricane, Maria, was on the way, and could hit the already ravaged island of St. John and surrounding Leeward Islands as soon as Monday. Nearby airports had closed. Ferries to the island of St. Croix were suspended. Even soldiers deployed to aid with the recovery efforts had withdrawn.
Two emergency ferries leaving Sunday for San Juan, Puerto Rico, might be the last chance to evacuate before the storm.
Nearly 200 people signed up for the free trips, and dozens more arrived at dawn to add their names to the list. They had been living for more than a week without steady cellphone service, electricity or running water.
Most were headed to the United States — to California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — some for the second time in as many weeks.
“I don’t think I can leave,” she said. “We don’t know where we will go from here. We don’t know when we will be able to come back. We don’t know if we should put ourselves and the dogs through this.”