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Puerto Ricans have been told to 'evacuate or die' after Hurricane Maria laid waste to the island of Dominica on its destructive path across the Caribbean.
Islanders have been warned to find shelter immediately with the howling 160mph winds expected to 'devastate' most of the U.S. territory tomorrow.
Frantic attempts are also being made to prepare for the monster storm before it slams into the British Virgin Islands where a curfew has been put in place as rescuers battle to clear the damage already caused by Hurricane Irma.
It comes as experts revealed Maria has developed a dangerous 'pinhole eye' producing a more compact center and intensifying its power. It's still too soon to know whether it poses any threat to the mainland U.S.
Overnight, the storm caused chaos on Dominica and destroyed the house of prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit who had to be rescued. The 44-year-old, who has led the country since 2004, said he had been at the 'complete mercy of the hurricane' before making it to safety.
But he later warned the island of 72,000 people has lost 'all that money can buy', adding on Facebook: 'My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.'
On the nearby island of Guadeloupe, footage showed ferocious tree-bending winds whipping through deserted streets and shaking lamp posts when the storm first hit.
Hurricane Maria made it's first landfall on Tuesday on the island of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean
Puerto Ricans have been told to 'evacuate or die' after Hurricane Maria laid waste to the island of Dominica on its destructive path across the Caribbean. This was the scene as Maria battered the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe today
Maria has brought 160mph winds and lashing rain to a region already hammered by Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Pictures show how flooding has hit Pointe-a-Pitre on Guadeloupe today
Storm coming: Hurricane Maria has unleashed its fury on the Caribbean island of Dominica, destroying the Prime Minister's residence and forcing him to be rescued. This was the scene as heavy rain and wind lashed the nearby island of Guadeloupe overnight
Dominica has lost 'all what money can buy' after Maria intensified into a 'potentially catastrophic' category five storm. Images from nearby Guadeloupe (above) show the power of the hurricane
Hurricane Maria has unleashed its fury on the Caribbean island of Dominica, destroying the Prime Minister's residence and forcing him to be rescued
People board up windows of a business in preparation for the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico last night
Fierce winds and driving rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours late Monday night. Its winds reached sustained maximum speeds of 160mph as it plowed into the tiny country - and forecasters warned it might become even stronger, the latest blow in the worst hurricane season for seven years.
A police official on the island, Inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday night that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was too dangerous for officers to do a full assessment as the storm raged outside.
'Where we are, we can't move,' he said in a brief phone interview late Monday night while hunkered down against the region's second Category 5 hurricane this month.
Prime Minister Skeritt said that once the all-clear was given, he would venture out to see the damage. He said his 'greatest fear' was that island residents would awake to word of 'serious physical injury and possible deaths.'
The initial focus, he said, would be on rescuing trapped people and securing medical aid for the injured.
Maria weakened briefly before dawn Tuesday to a still major Category 4 storm after its rampage over Dominica. But the fluctuation in intensity proved short-lived as a hurricane hunter plane reported the storm had regained its fearsome Category 5 status within hours.
There have been reports of widespread devastation on Dominica. As of 5am ET, the eye of the storm had moved west from the island as it sets a course towards Puerto Rico
Experts say that the hurricane will likely get weaker as it continues on towards Turks and Caicos at the end of the week
Unconfirmed reports have suggested that Dominica's main hospital has had its roof torn off, leaving patients vulnerable to the hurricane and local residents without access to medical care.
Power has gone down across the majority of Dominica. The DBS radio station has stopped broadcasting on the island after reports that the building had been smashed by falling objects in 160mph winds.
Meanwhile, emergency steps are being undertaken on the British Virgin Islands to prepare for the looming onslaught, although an official co-ordinating the operation has warned the islands had been 'weakened' by Irma and the situation 'doesn't look good'.
A curfew is in place and the governor Gus Jaspert warned of a race against time to clear up Irma debris to stop it becoming 'missiles' when Maria hits.
Another British overseas territory, Montserrat, has been issued with a hurricane warning amid fears Maria could bring a devastating storm surge, while torrential rain could trigger deadly flash floods.
The Foreign Office is warning against travelling to the BVI, Monterrat, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
UK International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the Government is under no illusion about the possible impact of the strengthening hurricane and said they were taking steps to prepare communities.
Guadeloupe, the French island near Dominica, has already experienced heavy flooding amid warnings many communities could be submerged
A tree lies on the ground among storm debris after Hurricane Maria lashed the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe overnight
Monster: The hurricane has smashed Dominica and Guadeloupe overnight, leading to extensive damage. This was the scene in the city of Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe
Powerful winds and rains from Hurricane Maria battered the city of Petit-Bourg on the French overseas Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. This was the scene today as islanders were waking up to devastation
Captain George Eatwell drops off a box of aid for an islander staying at Rainbow Home shelter, on the British Virgin Islands amid preparations for Hurricane Maria
British Virgin Islands locals are pictured queuing for aid handed out by British troops on Monday
Maria had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) late Monday when it slammed into Dominica before dipping for a time to a Category 4 major storm.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria's top sustained winds then returned to 160 mph (260 kph) strength shortly before daybreak Tuesday with the eye of Maria located about 65 miles (100 kilometers) west-southwest of Guadeloupe. The storm was moving west-northwest over the Caribbean at 9 mph (15 kph).
Fluctuations in intensity were expected, and forecasters have warned Maria would likely intensify over the next 24 hours or longer, noting its eye had shrunk to a compact 10 miles across and warning: 'Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye.'
That generally means an extremely strong hurricane will get even mightier, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. He said it just like when a spinning ice skater brings in their arms and rotates faster.
'You just don't see those in weaker hurricanes,' he said.
The storm's hurricane-force winds extended out about 35 miles (45 kilometers) and tropical storm-force winds out as far as 125 miles (205 kilometers).
Preparations: British troops handed out supplies on the British Virgin Islands yesterday as Maria headed north
All hands on deck: British troops have been helping to board up buildings, including the police station in Road Town on the British Virgin Islands (pictured)
Troops from 40 Commando have been preparing aid for distribution across British Overseas Territories
Marines help to board up Road Town Police Station on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands on Monday
A Royal Air Force Hercules C-130 arrives at Terrance B. Lettsome Airport on the British Virgin Islands
Forecasters said storm surge could raise water levels by 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 meters) near the storm's center. The storm was predicted to bring 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.
The current forecast track would carry it about 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands late Tuesday and early Wednesday, territorial Gov. Kenneth Mapp said.
'We are going to have a very, very long night,' Mapp said as he urged people in the territory to finish any preparations.
St. Thomas and St. John are still stunned from a direct hit by Hurricane Irma, which did extensive damage and caused four deaths on the two islands.
Barry University said it chartered a private plane to carry students and staff from its St. Croix facility to Florida in preparation for Maria. It said 72 people connected to the Barry's Physician Assistant Program and a few pets were on Monday's evacuation flight.
Roosevelt Skerrit, who has led the country since 2004, updated his citizens on Facebook as the hurricane ripped the roof from his home
Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica's prime minister, posted on Facebook that his house was flooding, but was later rescued. Other countries will soon be hit - and Maria is getting stronger
The 44-year-old said he was at the 'complete mercy of the hurricane' before announcing that he had been rescued
Experts say the region is deep in the 'peak period' of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June to November.
But in recent weeks all the right ingredients have been in place for ferocious winds to form, says Dr Steven Godby, an expert in natural hazards here at Nottingham Trent University.
He explained: 'Sea surface temperatures are higher than average, wind shear – which is the change in speed and direction of winds from surface level to high in the atmosphere – is low and there has not been any major input of dry, dusty air from the Sahara which can impact the development of these storms.
'Having so many hurricanes is newsworthy, but not unusual, and the consensus among forecasters was for the 2017 hurricane season to be above average including between 2-5 major (category 3 or above) hurricanes.'
The season has already seen four 'major' hurricanes making it the most destructive season since 2005.
Hurricane Harvey caused devastation in Texas while Hurricane Irma destroyed Caribbean islands in its path earlier this month.
Authorities in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm's expected arrival there on Wednesday.
'You have to evacuate. 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.'
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Puerto Rico had 500 shelters capable of taking in up to 133,000 people in a worst-case scenario. He also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power immediately after the storm, which could hit as a Category 5 hurricane.
Puerto Rico is expected to take a direct hit from Maria, which will likely devastate the island. Some 70,000 people there still without power because of Irma, which merely brushed the island, and 200 are still in shelters.
Rosselló warned the hurricane will have a much greater impact than Irma.
'It will essentially devastate most of the island,' he told USA Today adding: 'It will provoke massive flooding in flooding prone regions ... our priority is to save lives.'
The U.S. territory on Monday imposed rationing of basic supplies including water, milk, baby formula, canned foods, batteries, flashlights and other items.
Roberto Garcia, with the National Weather Service in San Juan, said: 'That is catastrophic in every way. People have to act, and they have to act now. They can no longer wait for a miracle.'
Guadeloupe, the French island near Dominica, has already experienced heavy flooding amid warnings many communities could be submerged.
In nearby Martinique, authorities ordered people to remain indoors and said they should be prepared for power cuts and disruption in the water supply.
On Dominica, Skerrit used Facebook to update islanders through the night, writing: 'Certainly no sleep for anyone in Dominica. I believe my residence may have sustained some damage,' he wrote at first.
But he then added: 'We do not know what is happening outside. We do not dare look out. All we hear is the sound of galvanise (galvanised iron roofing) flying. The sound of the fury of the wind. As we pray for its end!'
An hour later, the Prime Minister posted dramatically: 'Rough! Rough! Rough!' He then added, 'my roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.'
As Dominican citizens and others around the world looked on, a few minutes later he concluded: 'I have been rescued,' before explaining that the loss of his roof 'triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside'.
The Prime Minister then appealed to 'friendly nations and organisations with helicopter services' for help.
In referring to the galvanised iron roofs, Mr Skerrit was identifying one of the worst hazards in a long list of dangers facing islanders.
Flung into the air by hurricane-force winds, the tin sheeting becomes in effect flying blades.
A woman from the island of Barbuda, told MailOnline last night that she had seen a horse cut in half by a sheet of the roofing when the island was flattened by Hurricane Irma.
Weather maps have charted where Maria is likely to strike and warned of the risk to lives and properties on affected islands
Danger: Maps show there is an 'extreme risk to lives and property' on a number of islands including Puerto Rico
Maria is following a similar path to 180mph Hurricane Irma, which struck earlier this month. However, Maria slammed into islands further south
Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique and St. Lucia. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla
A curfew has been put in place on the British Virgin Islands amid fears debris from Hurricane Irma will turn into deadly missiles when Maria hits.
Frantic efforts are still being made to clear up after Irma laid waste to the British overseas territory.
Governor Gus Jaspert told the BBC this morning that it was facing an 'absolutely unprecedented event: to have a category five [Irma] followed by another category five.'
Rescuers have had to 'switch tack' from recovery to preparation ahead of Maria which is expected to dump large quantities of rain and hammer frail buildings.
He said: 'I’ve imposed a curfew in effect from now right up to when the hurricane passes so the roads are clear.
'We are going to send truck after truck to clear up all of the debris. I’m appealing to all of the community to show that spirit which they have shown so far of helping out, clearing up, getting the debris off the streets so it doesn’t turn into missiles flying at buildings.'
Hurricane Maria started as a tropical storm last week but quickly gained power as it approached the Caribbean islands.
In just a 27 hour period between Sunday and Monday, it was upgraded from a Category 1 to a Category 5 - just in time to make landfall on Dominica, a mountainous island prone to landslides in heavy rains.
Dominica last suffered serious weather damage during Tropical Storm Erica in 2015, which dumped 33-inches of rain, triggering widespread mudslides.
The entire town of Petite Savanne had to be evacuated and 30 people were killed.
It is thought that Dominica has not seen such severe weather since Hurricane David, a Category Five storm, killed more than 2,000 people on the island in 1979. In 1930, Hurricane San Zenon also left thousands of Dominicans dead.
Heavy wind and rain continues to lash a number of islands in the Caribbean, with particular fears for Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico as well as Dominica.
Barbuda and St Martin, both of which suffered the brunt of Hurricane Irma and were almost totally destroyed, are also suffering the onslaught of Maria tonight.
Even though they do not lie directly in the path of the storm, the mountains of debris lying in the streets and the thousands of ruined buildings on the islands make the level of danger severe.
Barbuda is understood to have been entirely evacuated yesterday for the first time in about 300 years, with many residents taken to nearby Antigua. The island is now guarded by Royal Marines.
Hurricane Maria is expected to bring more than two feet of rainfall to Puerto Rico this week