Hurricane Maria's deadly winds are soaring toward the Turks and Caicos islands, leaving Puerto Rico devastated in its wake and causing panic and fear on its last apparent stop in the Caribbean.
Maria, a Category-3 storm, brings the threat of more heavy rain and flash floods. Its death toll across the Caribbean has climbed to at least 27.
At least 15 died on Dominica and six on Puerto Rico. Three also died on Haiti, two on Guadeloupe, and one in the Dominican Republic.
5 PM Maria Update: Maria still a Cat 3, and will wobble a bit east and west out 5 days. Could catch the back edge like we did with Jose. pic.twitter.com/TkpvknLJQy— 13News Now Weather (@13Weather) September 22, 2017
Puerto Rico's government called the storm the worst in a century. Havoc continues throughout the island. A dam failed and caused potentially deadly flooding on Puerto Rico's Guajataca river. The BBC reported Friday that buses were "currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can".
In Haiti, government authorities reported two people were killed during a lightning strike in the community of Cornillon and a 45-year-old man died while trying to cross a river Thursday morning. Authorities say northern areas of Haiti were pounded by heavy rain from Hurricane Maria.
The hurricane center said the eye of Maria, a Category 3 storm, was expected to move near or just east of the Turks and Caicos Island and southeastern Bahamas Friday before weakening and as it heads out into the Atlantic.
At 5 p.m. ET, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was centered about 395 miles east-southeast of Nassau, packing winds of 125 mph and moving north-northwest at 9 mph. It said the storm should turn to the north by late Saturday.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas.
Maria's hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from the center.
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Southeastern Bahamas
- Central Bahamas
See Also: 13News Now Hurricane Center
Forecasters warned of continued heavy rain in Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, and parts of the Dominican Republic and Bahamas. By the time Maria's power is spent, the hurricane center said, it will have dumped up to 40 inches of rain on Puerto Rico, an amount approaching the heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
"Rainfall on these islands will continue to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," the center said.
Puerto Rico, whose population of more than 3 million lost all electric power, was still just emerging Friday from the effects of Maria, which inundated towns and crushed homes.
The loss of power has left residents hunting for gas canisters for cooking, collecting rainwater or steeling themselves mentally for the hardships to come in the tropical heat. Some have contemplated leaving the island.
In Dominica, another hard-hit island, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit cried as he spoke to a reporter on the nearby island of Antigua. “We have buried in excess of 15 people,” he said. “It is a miracle there were not hundreds of deaths.”
Could Maria hit the U.S. mainland?
We're not out of the woods yet.
A direct hit on the U.S. mainland from Hurricane Maria is unlikely, but not completely impossible, forecasters said Thursday.
A complex dance among Maria, the remnants of Hurricane Jose, and several other weather systems over the eastern U.S. and western Atlantic Ocean will determine the storm's ultimate path.
Jose should lend a helping hand to keep Maria away from the U.S. mainland by temporarily blocking a large area of high pressure over the eastern U.S. from moving farther east, the Weather Channel reported.
It's that high pressure that's bringing the unusual, summer-like warmth to much of the central and eastern U.S.
"If that high had been able to build east faster, it would have sent Maria on a more west-northwest path toward the U.S.," Weather Channel meteorologist Chris Dolce said.
Instead, Maria is expected to head north between that eastern U.S. high-pressure area and another area of high pressure located to the storm's east over the Atlantic Ocean, he said.
The good news for areas battered by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago: "Maria does not appear to be any threat to Florida or Georgia," said Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross.
The official forecast map from the National Hurricane Center shows Maria will continue to veer away from the East Coast. Through next Tuesday, that region remains outside the storm's "cone of uncertainty."
The storm should maintain hurricane strength through at least Tuesday, but is forecast to decrease to a Category 1 storm as it slides east of the Carolinas.
Beyond that, most weather models take the storm away from the U.S., though a few show Maria grazing or hitting Nova Scotia or Newfoundland late next week.
Even if the center of Maria completely misses the U.S. mainland, heavy seas, rough surf, strong rip currents and areas of beach erosion are likely to continue along much of the Atlantic seaboard into next week, AccuWeather said.
Maria tears through Puerto Rico
Earlier in the week, Maria became the strongest landfalling hurricane in Puerto Rico since 1928.
"God is with us," Gov. Ricardo Rossello tweeted shortly after Maria made landfall. "We are stronger than any hurricane. Together we will rise."
The power storm has killed at least 18 people in its rapid march through the Caribbean, including 15 in Dominica and two in Guadeloupe.
As Maria approached, Héctor Pesquera, Puerto Rico's chief public safety official, said those in low-lying areas needed to evacuate or die. "I don't know how to make this any clearer," he told Telemundo, NBC's Spanish-language network.
The Hurricane center has reported catastrophic flash flooding over portions of Puerto Rico. .
See Also: 13News Now Hurricane Center
Jose lingers off coast
Meanwhile, Jose continued to weaken as a post-tropical cyclone with 45 mph sustained winds, and is stationary. Even though it has weakened, Jose continues to bring tropical storm conditions to southern New England.
Tropical-storm warnings have been posted along part of the Massachusetts coastline.
The outer rain bands are nearing the coast of southern New England and dangerous surf and rip currents are expected to continue for several more days along much of the east coast of the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.
"Coastlines from North Carolina to southern New England are in for a long period of rough surf and an increasing risk of beach erosion," Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson said. "If Jose were to make landfall, it could end up producing significant surge even as a post-tropical storm."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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