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Hurricane Maria pummels small Caribbean island of Dominica as Category 5 storm

Hurricane Maria pummels small Caribbean island of Dominica as Category 5 storm
From Reuters - September 18, 2017

PONCE, Puerto Rico (Reuters) - The fourth major Atlantic hurricane of the year plowed into the small Caribbean island of Dominica on Monday as a rare, Category 5 storm and will likely bring its roof-ripping winds, torrential rain and pounding surf later in the week to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria was upgraded Monday evening to the top of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale when its maximum sustained winds reached 160 miles per hour (215 km per hour), with higher gusts, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported.

Less than 90 minutes later, the center of the storm,described by the NHC as potentially catastrophic, passed almost directly over Dominica, on a track that would put it over Puerto Rico by Wednesday, according to the agencys latest bulletins.

There was no immediate word on the fate of Dominica, a former British colony home to 72,000 people that lies in the eastern Caribbean about halfway between the French islands of Guadeloupe, to the north, and Martinique, to the south.

But Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, in a Facebook post around the time Maria made landfall, said the storm has blown the roof off his home, adding, I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding. He then added, I have been rescued.

Millions more in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have another day or two to prepare for the storm.

If Maria retains its strength, it would be the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, since a Category 4 storm swept the U.S. island territory in 1932, Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. The last major hurricane to strike Puerto Rico directly was Georges, which made landfall there as a Category 3 storm, he said.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, urged island residents in a social media advisory to brace for the storms arrival, saying, It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend or head to a state shelter.

Puerto Rico narrowly avoided a direct hit two weeks ago from Hurricane Irma, which reached a rare Category 5 status and ranked as the most powerful Atlantic storm on record before devastating several smaller islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas and St. John.

Residents of some islands fled in advance of the storm.

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