Hurricane Maria live updates: Rooftops ripped away in Dominica, port traffic closed in San Juan

A little more than a week after Hurricane Irma slashed through the Caribbean and glanced southeast Florida with hurricane-force gusts, Hurricane Maria is sweeping through the northeast Caribbean Sea dealing some islands a second blow. The small island of Dominica was hammered Monday night with Category 5 winds that ripped off rooftops and toppled trees, and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are expected to take a hit Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Stay with the Miami Herald for the latest reports.

Coast Guard closes all traffic for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

8:00 a.m.: The Coast Guard closed all inbound and outbound traffic for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Tuesday morning, warning gale-force conditions are expected to lash the islands Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Port condition ZULU – issued about 12 hours before gale-force winds are expected to hit – prohibits any vessels from entering or leaving the ports and suspends ship-to-shore operations until further notice.

The Coast Guard urged the public to stay off the water and avoid beaches, as well as secure their belongings and heed any evacuation orders.

— ELIZABETH KOH

In Dominica, rooftops ripped off and widespread wreckage

7:02 a.m.: Maria made landfall on the island of Dominica Monday night, and residents there woke up to yet another scene of devastation Tuesday as the storm left a trail of widespread wreckage. Maria’s Category 5 winds uprooted trees and ripped off rooftops including that of the official residence of the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, and triggering an avalanche of those torn-away roofs in the city and the countryside.

Skerrit, who described the storm on his official Facebook page as “Rough! Rough! Rough!” was eventually rescued as the violent rains and winds battered his mountainous island paradise.

Shortly before communication went down at 3 a.m. after the eye had passed, Skerrit described Maria’s impact.

“We have lost all what money can buy and replace,” he said in a post. “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.

“So, far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with,” he added.

The last time a storm unleashed such massive destruction on Dominica was Hurricane David, a deadly Category 4 storm that created massive devastation and loss of lives in the Caribbean region in 1979.

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In 2015, Dominica was hit by Tropical Storm Erika, which tore across the island and left at least 20 people dead as it dumped 10 inches of rain. The devastation was so costly that last year the island wasn’t prepared to host a gathering of 15 Caribbean Community leaders, forcing the meeting to be held in Guyana.

Prior to Hurricane Maria’s arrival, Skerrit warned Dominicans not to take the storm lightly and for those living in flood-prone communities to evacuate.

While there have been reports of injuries, it’s unclear whether there are any deaths as a result of the storm. Skerrit said the focus this morning, once the all clear is given, will be to search for any persons who are injured and those trapped in the rubble.

“I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating … indeed, mind boggling,” he said. “My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.

“It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days. That is why I am eager now to solicit the support of friendly nations and organisations [sic] with helicopter services, for I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what’s needed,” he said.

As the hurricane moved upward, St. Kitts and Nevis Foreign Minister Mark Brantley posted a video clip on Twitter of trees blowing in the tiny island of Nevis, birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, creator of the American economic system and one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

At 5 a.m., he said, St. Kitts and Nevis, which was forced to cancel independence day celebrations today, was being “pummeled by howling winds and torrential rain.”

“We pray for the morning sun and its revelations,” he tweeted.

— JACQUELINE CHARLES