Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Dominica on Monday, hampering efforts to recover after Hurricane Irma.
Dominica, formerly British territory but now an independent country, is in the Leeward Islands group, the easternmost of islands in the Caribbean Sea and often the first to be impacted by a hurricane. The storm strengthened from a Category 3 hurricane to Category 5, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, in a matter of hours on Monday. Dominica is still dealing with the aftereffects of Hurricane Irma.
All ports and airports were closed, and all residents were ordered to go to shelters.
Dominica, an island 15 miles wide and 30 miles from north to south, has a population of 72,000. The eye of the hurricane passed over the island on Monday, and storm surges of six to nine feet were forecast.
The government's website and email outlets were not functioning on Tuesday morning, but on Monday Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt wrote on his Facebook page, "Initial reports are of widespread devastation. 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. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside. It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days."
Skeritt called for immediate help in the form of rescue helicopters.
The storm's predicted path calls for Maria to approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by Wednesday.
Ernesto Morales, stationed in San Juan, P.R., with the National Weather Service, said the storm "promises to be catastrophic for our island. All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane force winds."
Emergencies were declared by President Donald Trump for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Two weeks ago, Caribbean islands were preparing for Hurricane Irma. Delivery of relief supplies was accelerated in advance of Hurricane Maria. An amphibious military ship, the USS Kearsarge, is the base of operations for the relief effort in the Virgin Islands. It evacuated its 160 U.S. military forces sent to assist in the recovery after Irma.
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