Hurricane Maria was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, the National Hurricane Center said Monday night, as islands including Puerto Rico brace for the impact.
Maria is anticipated to approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday. The storm might make landfall on the eastern side of Puerto Rico and could bring major damage to the U.S. territory late Wednesday morning and into the afternoon — two weeks to the day since Hurricane Irma tore through Puerto Rico, killing at least three.
At 8 p.m. ET on Monday night the center of the storm was located about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica as it closed in on the Caribbean island. Sustained winds were up to 160 mph as the storm moved west-northwest at 9 mph.
Evacuation orders have been issued for parts of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said starting midday Tuesday, conditions will begin to deteriorate and the island could get between 12 and 18 inches of rain.
Rossello encouraged residents to execute emergency plans immediately. “Now is the moment to save lives,” he said.
Officials said 450 shelters will be opened starting this afternoon and warned of possible catastrophic damage and a possible collapse of the “vulnerable” electrical system.
“Flood-prone areas must be abandoned,” said Public Security Secretary Héctor Pesquera. “If not, you will die.”
The governor said a federal emergency declaration was requested.
On Monday, President Trump ordered federal assistance to supplement the response efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the United States mainland.
As Maria is set to travel across the Caribbean, it is likely to affect areas including the British and U.S. Virgin Islands on its way toward Puerto Rico.
It was just weeks ago when Irma devastated several Caribbean islands, killing at least 39 people.