Category 4 hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in what is the strongest such landfall since the 1930s. In a clockwise gyre, Hurricane Maria is also lashing the Virgin Islands and is threatening the eastern shore of Florida. The eye of the storm is carving up eastern Puerto Rico and Vieques Island. Before the eyewall made it to shore, the National Weather Service issued "extreme wind warnings" for several eastern Puerto Rico municipalities. Some reports indicate that winds of 155 mph were registered.

At western St. Croix, Virgin Islands, winds of 137 mph were registered with sustained winds of 106 mph. At Yabucoa, near where the storm landed in Puerto Rico, winds of 113 mph were registered, while at San Juan there were winds of 91 mph. Flash floods are feared throughout eastern Puerto Rico while about half a dozen river gauges have registered levels above flood stage. More heavy rain is moving in. Live video feeds from San Juan show winds stripping leaves from palm trees in the deserted streets. Life-threatening storm surges are expected, of 6 to 9 feet. Atmospheric pressure registered 909 mb, which is the worst on record.

Flood warnings have been issued for areas such as Comerio, Naranjito, Dorado, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Florida, Barceloneta, Ciales and Manatí.

Puerto Rico may see as much of 12 to 18 inches of rain on Wednesday, while some areas may receive as much as 25 inches into Friday. The Virgin Islands are expected to receive 8 to 12 inches of rain, with locally up to 16 inches. The Dominican Republic, as well as the Turks and Caicos, may get 4 to 8 inches of rain, with isolated 12-inch amounts. Such amounts of rain may produce widespread, life-threatening, potentially catastrophic flooding and mudslides. Puerto Rico is mountainous and may see washouts on roads.

The National Weather Service office in San Juan has warned of "catastrophic damage" from Hurricane Maria's winds and "life-threatening rainfall flooding having possible devastating impacts" in statement released on Wednesday morning. Hurricane Maria is the strongest such storm to flail the American island since a Category 4 hurricane of September 1932. The last Category 4 hurricane to come near Puerto Rico was Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which clipped the northeast tip of the island commonwealth.

Turks and Caicos Islands have received hurricane warnings as have the Bahamas, which means that residents should see hurricane conditions within 36 hours. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are also threatened. Hurricane watches are also set for St. Maarten, St. Martin, and St. Barthelemy, which had already been devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Hurricane Maria is expected to depart Puerto Rico on Wednesday evening, but not before carving across the island with destructive winds, storm surge flooding at the coast, and flooding rain. The Virgin Islands will see improvement on Wednesday but will see heavy rain and at least some tropical storm-force winds.

In the impoverished countries of Haiti and Dominican Republic, a storm surge of 1 to 3 feet is expected along the northern coast of Hispaniola, the island that the two republics share. In the hurricane warning area of the Dominican Republic, water levels may rise by as much as 4 to 6 feet above normal tide levels.

Whether or not Hurricane Maria will hit the coast of North America depends on high-altitude steering currents of air over the western Atlantic Ocean and the eastern United States that cannot be predicted at this time. Another storm -- Jose -- that is now in the Atlantic has the potential of forestalling the potential effects to be wrought by Maria. The terrain of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola may also affect the strength and direction of Maria. For the time being, residents of the east coast of the United States should monitor Maria’s progress.

Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told residents that Hurricane Maria will be the worst of the last 100 years. He told residents “Evacuate or die.” By 2:30 am on Wednesday, there were 10,059 counted, who brought with them 189 pets, according to official estimates. On Tuesday night, the first failures of the electric grid were noted. Puerto Rico’s electric company said that at least 30 percent of the grid will be affected and that it is expected to worsen. 

Hundreds of people are sleeping on cots at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan. On Wednesday morning 700 people had to be moved at the Coliseum because water cascaded from the damaged roof. Mayor Carmen Yulín Soto of San Juan said that the structure is safe that that the water in question was due to condensation because of the lack of air conditioning. Air circulation was cut because of the blackout.

Spero News contacted Fr. Peter DiLeo-Vulic, a Catholic priest who serves the San Espirdion parish outside of San Juan. In an email to Spero News, he wrote: “Only now do we have a few minutes of electricity and Internet. Please pray for us!”
 



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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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