Hurricane Maria has rapidly intensified into a Category 5 storm with the potential to gain more strength as it moves across the Atlantic Ocean. On Monday morning, it started heading straight for the islands battered by Hurricane Irma less than two weeks ago.
“It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said at a press conference Monday when he issued a state of emergency for the U.S. territory.
Puerto Rico, along with both the U.S. Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands, are bracing for a hit from Maria on Wednesday night, according to the National Hurricane Center’s forecast. As of Monday even, the storm was packing 130 mph winds and set to bring storm conditions to Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique later at night.
The threat of destructive rain ― predicted to be as high as 20 inches in some areas ― severe winds and storm surge come just as many who live in the Caribbean attempt to get back on their feet after Irma, which claimed at least three lives in Puerto Rico, at least four in the British Virgin Islands, and at least three in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where electricity may not be restored for months.
For many people, the onslaught has required some tough decision-making.
“We’re not going to rebuild,” Nina Gross, 72, told the Los Angeles Times while waiting for a ferry evacuating U.S. Virgin Island residents from St. John ahead of Maria. She had moved there with her husband 46 years ago and lost everything ― “a lifetime of labor and love” ― to Irma’s destruction.
Irma largely spared Puerto Rico but still knocked out power for about a million residents, which is simultaneously grappling with its worst economic crisis in modern history and has been in a near-continuous recession for the last 10 years.
As Maria neared, Rosselló said that about 85 percent of customers in and around San Juan, the territory’s capital, were still without electricity because of Irma. Another 11 percent were still without drinking water.
While it’s far too early to say whether Maria will threaten Florida, the news of yet another major hurricane picking up strength so shortly after Irma pummeled much of the state has triggered anxiety among some residents and slowed down some tourist businesses.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jessie Smith told Florida Today that it never hurts to be prepared.
“What I would just say for people that are panicky and just kind of worried about it, be prepared like you would any other time during hurricane season,” she said. “We are at the peak of hurricane season. September’s the peak, so it isn’t really any surprise to see multiple storms out in the Atlantic.”