Hurricane Maria roared ashore on Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to strike the island in more than 80 years while panicked residents fled to high ground and huddled in shelters hoping to withstand powerhouse winds that have already left death and devastation across the Caribbean.
“On the forecast track, [Maria] would be the most destructive hurricane in Puerto Rico history,” tweeted Eric Blake, a forecaster at the Hurricane Center.
The storm slammed ashore near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds – the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932.
Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said conditions were “Deteriorating rapidly.” “This is clearly going to be the most devastating storm in the history of our island,” he said, adding that it will take another half day for the worst part to hit.
Already, Maria has roared over islands to the east with winds of more than 160 mph and downpours that triggered flooding and landslides.
In the French island of Guadeloupe, officials said at least two deaths were blamed on Maria, and at least two people were missing after a ship went down near the tiny French island of Desirade.
In a breathless series of Facebook posts late Monday, the prime minister of the island nation of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, described furious winds that tore off the roof of his official residence.