The “potentially catastrophic” storm, carrying 160 mph winds, is expected to keep moving west-northwest over the Caribbean Sea on Tuesday before passing near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday morning.
The destruction in Dominica is “mind boggling,” the island’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said in a Facebook post. He described a situation in which the storm had ripped the roofs off the homes of nearly everyone he’d spoken to.
In Guadeloupe, a French territory north of Dominica, the storm killed at least one person, officials said Tuesday. Another two are missing.
Puerto Rico was largely spared by Hurricane Irma earlier this month but is preparing for a direct hit from Maria.
“This is an extremely dangerous hurricane and life-threatening impacts are anticipated across [Puerto Rico] and the Virgin Islands!” the National Weather Service’s San Juan office tweeted Tuesday morning.
If the forecasts prove correct, the destruction that Maria brings to Puerto Rico could break records, Eric Blake, a National Hurricane Center scientist, tweeted.
Even as Maria approached, Irma recovery efforts were still underway on the islands in its path. On Monday, 85 percent of customers in and around San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, remained without electricity because of Irma. Eleven percent were still without drinking water.
Puerto Rico’s ability to bounce back from this year’s hurricanes is complicated by its ongoing economic troubles. After a year of defaulting on its loan payments, the territory declared bankruptcy in May, marking the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
The U.S. and British Virgin Islands are also expected to take a hit from Maria on Wednesday. Those islands received a more severe beating from Irma, driving some residents to reconsider their plans to ever rebuild as Maria neared.