The Caribbean island of Dominica has been “devastated” by Hurricane Maria, the country’s Prime Minister told CNN.
The powerful storm, which made landfall Monday night, has since been downgraded to a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph. After it passes over Dominica it is on course to score a direct hit on the US territory of Puerto Rico — the first hurricane of its strength to do so in 85 years.
“We’re just waiting for daybreak to do an assessment of the damage,” Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told CNN.
“Our first order of business will be search and rescue to ensure we can account for every single citizen and residents who were on the island during this really devastating hurricane.”
A statement from the National Hurricane Center said that its record-topping winds reached 160 miles per hour when it hit the island nation. In an update the Center said that reports “indicate significant damage to structures has occurred in Dominica.”
Maria made landfall on Dominica late Monday, coming ashore at 9:15 p.m. ET. It was so powerful that it tore the roof off the Prime Minister’s residence.
“Personally I was affected,” Skerrit said. “The roof of the residence caved in because of the strength of the wind. But I was taken to safe ground by … police officers, thank God.
“This hurricane stayed in the country for a very, very long time and (was) just unrelenting. I don’t think there were very many roofs which would survive the hurricane.”
“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he said. “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.”
Mr. Skerrit said that “the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with.”
He said the island’s immediate priority was to rescue people who were trapped and provide medical care to the injured. “I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating … indeed, mind boggling,” Mr. Skerrit said.
As of early Tuesday morning, soon after the prime minister posted his most recent Facebook entry, phone and internet signals on Dominica appeared to be down, leaving the island virtually incommunicado.
The storm had strengthened to Category 5, with maximum sustained winds near 160 m.p.h., hours before the eye passed over Dominica. Just over a day earlier it had been a tropical storm, but wind speeds had increased by 90 m.p.h. within 27 hours, the National Weather Service said.
After hitting Dominica, Maria weakened to Category 4 and continued northwest, with the eye of the storm passing south of the French island of Guadeloupe, before regaining strength.—Agencies