Hurricane Maria rains lash Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico after storm rips through eastern Caribbean

was lashing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with rain Tuesday afternoon after it devastated the Caribbean island of Dominica with 160 mph winds.

The in Miami said the potentially catastrophic storm was expected to remain extremely dangerous when it passes near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

“Preparations against life-threatening storm surge and rainfall flooding and destructive winds should be rushed to completion,” the center said.

Maria made landfall in Dominica with winds that sheared off roofs, including the prime minister’s official residence.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit stayed home during the storm, and his Facebook posts chronicled its toll.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote. He said he could hear the sound of the storm stripping away steel roofs and realized his home was damaged: “Rough! Rough! Rough!”

Skerrit eventually had to be rescued.

“So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made with,” he wrote afterward.

He appealed for international aid. “We will need help of all kinds,” he wrote.

On the French island of Guadeloupe, at least one person was killed after being hit by a falling tree, according to officials. It was the first death attributed to Maria.

Two other people were reported missing after their boat sank off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe, the Associated Press reported.

The news agency reported that about 40% of the island — 80,000 homes — was without power, with flooding reported in several communities, especially along the southern coast.

On nearby Martinique, officials said about 25,000 homes were without power, and two towns were without water after the storm passed.

Prefect Eric Maire, the highest-ranking French official on the island of Guadeloupe, posted a video on Twitter advising residents to stay inside, noting that the storm had flooded roads and homes and that heavy rain was expected to continue.

Hurricane Maria weakened to a Category 4 storm early Tuesday but then returned to Category 5 strength.

Puerto Rico faced the possibility of a direct hit, the worst storm in decades, officials said. Authorities warned those in wooden homes to evacuate before the hurricane arrived Wednesday.

“Otherwise, you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”

Old San Juan’s streets were largely empty, storefronts along the water boarded up with sandbags stacked at some entrances. Police patrolled and prepared a shelter in city hall.

Nearly 70,000 people were still without power in the U.S. territory following Hurricane Irma, and several hundred remained in shelters as Maria approached. But Gov. Ricardo Rossello said that the island’s 500 shelters could house up to 133,000 people and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was prepared to supply drinking water and restore power after the storm.

“This is going to impact all of Puerto Rico with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations,” he said. “We’re going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico. We’re going to have to rebuild.”

Artist Cresenciano Sotomayor, 41, took his family to get last-minute supplies — paper towels and candles — Tuesday morning in Old San Juan. Officials had announced they would cut electricity at 6 p.m. and running water by 9.

“We just do our preparations as best we can,” he said as he grabbed a coffee by the ocean front on the way home with his partner and 3-year-old son.

Sotomayor said the island had done all it could to prepare, but he still worried about poor neighborhoods outside the capital, some of which had been evacuated. He hoped people would help each other after Hurricane Maria as they helped the other Caribbean islands after Irma, sending emergency supplies and other aid.

In coastal Loiza, about 25 miles east of the capital, families were busy Tuesday afternoon screwing plywood and lumber over the windows and doors of their cinderblock homes.

"It’s going to be catastrophic," said Monica Pisarro, 49, as her brothers used drills to screw plywood over their windows next door.

She was one of the lucky ones with a generator, bought before Irma.

Forecasters warned that Maria could intensify further Tuesday, with an intense “pinhole eye” just 10 miles wide that could magnify the storm’s impact. Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat.

A tropical storm warning was issued for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Martin and Anguilla.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Kenneth Mapp said Tuesday would be “a very, very long night.”

St. Thomas and St. John are still recovering from a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which caused four deaths, destroyed scores of homes and left the hills stripped of vegetation.

At a Tuesday morning briefing in St Croix, Mapp urged residents to head to shelters, saying doing so prevented serious injuries during Irma.

“Shelter and protect yourselves,” he said. “The infrastructure is going to diminish as time goes by. Forget about your house, about how much property you have in your house, and concentrate on your family.”

Mapp said he planned to “hunker down in Government House,” the site of the briefing and the seat of government.

Chris Wachta’s home was among those damaged. He had been on vacation in Europe celebrating his 25th anniversary when the storm struck. Unable to return, he struggled to help his pet sitter escape with his dog and three cats in tow. She finally joined him and his wife in San Juan on Monday, and they were hoping to catch a flight they had booked out of the Caribbean before the storm hits Wednesday.

“We can’t get back to see what’s going on,” he said.

Wachta, 59, is a regional project director for Marriott Vacation Club, and worried about colleagues still on St. Thomas, some living with their children in homes without roofs. His company was trying to place them in vacant rental properties before Hurricane Maria strikes.

“We’ve been moving them to safe havens,” he said.

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UPDATES:

1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with rains from the storm lashing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and additional details.

11:50 a.m.: This article was updated with the death of at least one person on Guadeloupe and a statement from U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp.

This article was originally published at 7:15 p.m.

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