Hurricane Maria left a trail of destruction as it hit the Caribbean island of Dominica as a Category 5 storm and then battered Guadeloupe with powerful winds early Tuesday.
Forecasters warned that the storm could leave some parts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands uninhabitable for months.
"So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace"
Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, wrote on Facebook that his roof was gone, that his home was flooded and that he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane" after Maria made landfall Monday night. A few minutes later, the politician reported that he had been rescued.
"Initial reports are of widespread devastation," Skerrit said in a later post. "So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. So far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside."
He warned that airports and seaports were likely to be shut for days. Around 72,000 people live on the island in the Lesser Antilles.
"My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured," Skerrit added. "We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds."
NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins highlighted that Maria was one of the fastest intensifying hurricanes ever recorded. It blew up from a tropical storm into a major Category 5 hurricane in barely more than a day.
"Dominica had very little time to prepare for this monster," Karins said. "I fear what we will see during the daylight hours from Dominica and Guadeloupe. They had little time to prepare for the strongest storm of their lifetimes."
A U.S.-based spokeswoman for the Rosalie Bay Resort, which is located on the east coast of Dominica, told NBC News they had lost contact with staff late Monday. The last message from a manager arrived about 45 minutes after Maria made landfall and stated the situation was "really bad and very scary."
With Maria producing maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, hurricane warnings were in effect for Puerto Rico, its satellite islands of Culebra and Vieques, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It weakened briefly overnight to Category 4 before regaining strength.
At 11 am ET, the eye of the hurricane was located about 115 miles west of Guadeloupe. The French overseas territory experienced sustained tropical storm force winds and around 80,000 households there were without power.
Maria was expected to pass near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the hurricane center said. It warned the storm could be "potentially catastrophic."
With hurricane-force winds likely to continue across both territories for as long as 24 hours, forecasters said, Maria was shaping up to be even more destructive than Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 70 people across the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States beginning in late August.
In tandem with rain as heavy as 18 inches and storm surges forecast as high as 9 feet, conditions could leave parts of the U.S. territories "uninhabitable for weeks or months," the hurricane center said. "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or two, but Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."
Kenneth Mapp, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, suspended all Irma recovery efforts to shift the focus to preparing for Maria, while President Donald Trump declared states of emergency in both territories on Monday.
The Coast Guard said it was moving personnel, cutters and aircraft in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to protect them from Maria and to position them for quick search-and-rescue missions.
On Tuesday, the French government said there was no major damage in Martinique, but 50,000 households were left without power and 10,000 more have no access to water. Four people were confirmed injured.
In Guadeloupe, the French government said, reconnaissance teams will be heading out Tuesday afternoon to assess the damage.
The British government, meanwhile, advised against all travel to the British Virgin Islands, saying it was extending the deployment of more than 1,300 military personnel already in the region to help with recovery from Irma.
"Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye," the National Hurricane Center said Monday — a sure sign of a particularly powerful storm.
Orelon Sidney, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said: "It's got almost perfect conditions — low [wind] shear, warm temperatures and moisture."
Karins said it's only the second time in recorded history that two Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in a hurricane season. The last year in which two Category 5 hurricanes hit land in the Atlantic basin was 2007, when Dean and Felix killed 174 people in Mexico and Central America. They were so destructive that both of their names were retired.
Atlantic Category 5 hurricanes (33 in total):— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) September 19, 2017
It's too early to predict whether or how strongly the U.S. mainland could be affected because of shifting winds and weakening from interference as Maria passes over the string of islands, forecasters said.
But, "overall, it's going to be a very strong storm, we think, going through Saturday and Sunday," Sidney said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that Maria could bring more rain, wind and water than Irma, which killed three people there.
"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," Rosselló said Monday.
On Tuesday, Rosselló said 500 shelters would be opened for people who can't stay with relatives or friends when the storm hits.
Authorities have also said they would shut down the airport in San Juan at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
In Condado, just east of historic old San Juan, Sonia Yanguas, 76, was appealing to the Almighty for help.
"We're praying to God that it will weaken out at sea," said Yanguas, who lives in a ninth-floor apartment by the sea. "I've already made the essential purchases, especially water. I have my equipment, I have a radio and batteries, all the things that are so important to making sure you don't end up without a way to communicate."
But she's not sticking around for Maria. She's heading inland to the city of Miramar.
"I'm going to prepare my apartment right now, and then I'm going to a hotel," Yanguas said. "I'm going with my two sons and four grandchildren."
Jay Campbell, who lives in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said residents were also getting ready for Maria — pointing out that "150 mph winds are nothing to sneeze at."
Campbell said he had stocked a supply of drinking water, food, gasoline, batteries and wet wipes, in case there is no running water after the storm passes.
Irma killed four people and left "apocalyptic" damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Will Tuttle, who flew down from Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to the island of St. John to help his mother rebuild after Irma, said they were boarding everything up again in preparation for Maria.
"We covered the windows with plywood and are now putting up more plywood to reinforce them," Tuttle said. "We'll throw everything from outside into the pool — lawn chairs, chaises. It sinks. It's safe. It doesn't go anywhere."
On St. Thomas, Omari Williams said everybody was heeding the call to get out of their houses.
"People here are trying to get safe," he said. "Officials are encouraging more people to come to public shelters especially if their home is already compromised."