Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday as 11,000 islanders huddled in shelters and millions more hunkered down while the storm pounded its way across the island.
It was 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."
As of 8 a.m. Thursday, Hurricane Maria had sustained winds of 115 miles per hour, making it once again a major hurricane. Maria is moving northwest at 9 mph. She was about 70 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The Hurricane Center says Maria's large eye is passing offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic.
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.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:
- Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Puerto Plata
- Turks and Caicos Islands and the Southeastern Bahamas
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:
- Dominican Republic west of Puerto Plata to the northern border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti
- Dominican Republic west of Cabo Engano to Punta Palenque
A Hurricane Watch is in effect for:
- Dominican Republic from Isla Saona to Cabo Engano
“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of Facebook posts. “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” He later said he was rescued.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the government has prepared hundreds of shelters capable of housing more than 100,000 evacuees if necessary.
The National Weather Service in Puerto Rico warned that "catastrophic winds" are expected from Maria beginning Tuesday afternoon. "Locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months."
In addition, "major to record rains and flooding are expected to accompany Maria," the weather service said.
It is still too early to determine whether the storm will impact the U.S. East Coast — and any threat would not be until early next week — but a strike on Florida is still a possibility.
"We may luck out and it turns north before reaching Florida," AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel said. "Unfortunately, it looks like blocking high pressure could force it into Florida. Definitely something we are watching."
Due to the uncertain path of Hurricane Jose, it's "much too early to judge what portions of the U.S. East Coast or Canada might be threatened by Maria next week," according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
“This storm promises to be catastrophic for our island,” said Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan. “All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane-force winds.”
But first, the U.S. Virgin Islands likely will face "at least a glancing blow if not a full-on landfall" late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Samuhel said.
On St. John's, the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, people lined up to flee the storm. Irma blasted across the island Sept. 7, a Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 185 mph. Homes and businesses were blown apart and power is expected to be out for months.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic could see Maria's wrath on Wednesday.
A potential impact on the East Coast will depend on steering currents in the upper atmosphere over the western Atlantic and the eastern U.S. that can't be determined more than a week in advance, according to the Weather Channel.
See Also: 13News Now Hurricane Center
Hurricane Jose threatens East Coast
Meanwhile, Jose has weakened into a tropical storm with 60 mph sustained winds. The winds will continue to bring rip currents and rough surf to the U.S. East Coast over the next several days.
Tropical-storm warnings have been posted along the southeastern New England coast, including most of the Rhode Island and 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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