For the second time this month, a major hurricane has taken aim Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria barely slowed to a Category 4 rating as it landed on the southeastern part of Puerto Rico. It has already claimed one life on Guadaloupe as a Category 5 hurricane, and wreaked devastation on Domenica, NBC News reports:
Hurricane Maria roared ashore in Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning as a Category 4 storm, thrashing the U.S. territory with life-threatening winds.
Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph as it made landfall near the southeastern town of Yabucoa, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm is expected to bring up to 25 inches of rain to Puerto Rico and some 16 inches to the U.S. Virgin Islands. The islands could also see several tornadoes throughout Wednesday.
The territory had already been reeling from Irma’s impact, with power outages expected to last for weeks. Its governor now expects a larger catastrophe on top of the damage already done, and is warning residents to seek effective shelter immediately:
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters Tuesday that Maria “promises to be much more devastating” than was Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 70 people as it plowed through the Caribbean and the southeastern United States earlier this month.
“If you are in a flood zone, your life is in danger,” Rosselló said. “If you are in a wooden house, your life is in danger.”
The National Weather Service concurred in its warning, predicting that some areas “may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.” As if the winds weren’t bad enough, Puerto Rico will have flooding rain, a storm surge that will wash buildings away, and as NBC notes, tornadoes:
Potential impacts from tornadoes are still unfolding across PUERTO RICO AND THE US VIRGIN ISLANDS. Remain well braced against a dangerous tornado event.
The NWS would also like to remind people that no one really needs that storm selfie some will want to get:
Do not be a thrill seeker or risk your life for senseless photos or videos. Be wise and avoid becoming another statistic.
And yet, we’ll see them all over social media anyway. At least Gadi Schwartz took this from inside — and with at least a short distance from the window:
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) September 20, 2017
It’s the first hurricane landfall for Puerto Rico in almost 20 years. Irma slid past it, as the Washington Post recalls, but it did enough damage even without a technical landfall:
The projected storm track is such that the most severe conditions may target St. Croix and southeast Puerto Rico. But the storm is expansive enough that small wobbles could bring devastating effects farther to the north and west, including over the same areas hardest hit by Hurricane Irma, such as St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the entirety of the British Virgin Islands. And even if these islands remain north of the storm’s core, a dangerous storm surge of up to 7 to 11 feet above normally dry land is possible.
Puerto Rico is very vulnerable to hurricanes, but one has not made landfall there since Georges in 1998. It just missed the worst of Irma, which scraped along its north shore, but an estimated 1 million people lost electricity because of its fragile power infrastructure. Before Irma struck, officials warned some areas could be without power for months.
Just one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico in recorded history, back in 1928. The last time a Category 4 storm struck the island was in 1932.
Puerto Rico had a financial crisis even before the two hurricanes hit this year, and the destruction from the two hurricanes will complicate it even more. That’s a consideration for later, after the rescue and relief efforts have residents safe and healthy, but will probably overhand efforts to rebuild after the catastrophe. In the meantime, pray for Puerto Rico, its residents, and all of the responders who will be needed when this passes.