Caribbean faces fresh devastation as Hurricane Maria hits islands

The Caribbean island of Dominica has been “brutalised and devastated” by category 5 Hurricane Maria, the prime minister of the country has said.

The eyewall of the hurricane barrelled into Dominica’s eastern coast on Monday evening, crossing towards the former British colony’s capital, Roseau, on the south-west side.

Hurricane Maria had intensified into a category 5 storm as it moved towards Dominica. It was reclassified as a category 4 as it moved away from the island. It is expected to hit the eastern Caribbean islands still working to provide basic food, water and health services to the regions hard hit by Hurricane Irma.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the “major hurricane” was producing maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour and would strengthen further over the next two days, remaining “extremely dangerous” as it approaches the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, experienced the force of the hurricane first hand. He posted on his official Facebook page that the wind had ripped the roof off his house and wrote he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”.

After he was rescued from the property, he told Caracas-based TV station Telesur that the island had been “brutalised” and “devastated” by Maria.

“In the morning we will know how many dead there are,” he said.

In a later post to Facebook Skerrit said damage to the island was “mindboggling” and that winds had swept roofs from houses “of almost every person I have spoken to.”

“My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”

Earlier, residents of the island, which escaped Hurricane Irma, had flocked to supermarkets to stock up on essentials as officials warned people living in low-lying areas or along rivers to move to high ground.

The island’s airport and ports were closed, and the local water company shut down its systems to protect its intake valves from debris churned up by the storm. The government opened all shelters.

Late on Monday, a police official, inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was still 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.

“It’s really a desperate situation,” said Chamberlain Emanuel, head of the environment commission at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OESC).

In a telephone interview from St Lucia, Emanuel said the incoming storm threatened to slow the recovery from Irma. The scale of the destruction left by that hurricane is becoming clearer by the hour as communications systems are restored across the region. “We’re trying to be resilient but the vulnerability is just too high,” he said.

Irma, also a category 5 hurricane, left about 40 people dead in the Caribbean before veering towards Florida, where at least 20 people died.

The NHC warned Hurricane Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that would raise water levels by as much as 9ft (2.7 metres) as it approached approached the French territory of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands devastated by Irma this month.

Islanders on nearby Martinique were ordered to stay indoors under a maximum-level “violet” alert. And the energy supplier EDF said power had been cut off from 10,000 homes on the island, which has a population of 400,000.

Up to 20in of rain could drench the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night – conditions that could cause life-threatening floods and mudslides.

Officials in Puerto Rico warned residents of wooden or otherwise flimsy homes to find safe shelter.

“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.”

Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and the British island of Montserrat are also on alert.

Emanuel said the region needed help from the entire international community because the small islands have few resources. “The force of the wind from that category 5-plus storm was really something that was unprecedented and they were not ready for,” he said.

Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean as Maria approached.

“We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst,” said Chris Austin, head of a UK military taskforce set up to deal with Irma, as the British Virgin Islands readied for the storm.

On the island of St Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, the Red Cross flew in 11 tonnes of aid from the Dutch mainland on Sunday, including urgently needed materials to replace roofs ripped off by Irma.

Although Hurricane Irma did not make landfall on mainland Puerto Rico, its after effects are still being felt. For some, the electricity returned just a few days after the storm, while others in neighbourhoods like Old San Juan, Miramar, and Hato Rey have only just had their power turned on over the weekend and some still have no power at all.

In Santurce, one of the biggest neighborhoods in San Juan, residents could be seen on Monday preparing for the latest storm, tying down and securing large potted plants and satellite dishes, and preparing wooden boards that will eventually protect the windows of homes and businesses.

Gas stations began to get busy over the afternoon with four or five cars waiting at every pump. The local Walmart was crowded with people stocking up on water, soft drinks, chips, canned food, and batteries.