Travel Alert ​Caribbean - Hurricane Maria

19 Sep 2017

Hurricane Maria has strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm as it bears down on islands in the Caribbean and the island of Dominica is one of the first in its path, facing sustained winds of 260km/h. Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

Martinique declared a maximum-level alert while another French island, Guadeloupe, has ordered evacuations.

Hurricane warnings are also in place for:

*  Dominica: A former British colony with a population of 72,000 about half way between Guadeloupe and Martinique. The eye of the hurricane was about 15 miles (25km) east-south-east at midnight GMT.

*  Puerto Rico: The US territory expects Maria to make landfall as a category three on Tuesday. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. Governor Ricardo Rossello urged islanders to seek refuge.

*  US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands: Both island chains suffered severe damage from Irma and President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the US territories on Monday. British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat.

Warnings are also in effect for St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia while hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

The islands bearing the brunt of Maria are part of the Leeward Islands chain and include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter was evacuated after being devastated by Irma. Forecasters warned that heavy rainfall caused by the hurricane "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides".

The British government said more than 1,300 troops were staying put in the region and an additional military team had been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.

In the French territory of Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted. The French government has ordered low-lying areas on the islands to be evacuated, AFP reports.

Further advice for each region is detailed below. 

Dominica and Martinique 
Significant damage and disruptions are possible on Dominica and Martinique, where torrential rainfall, flash flooding, and landslides are likely. Significant transport disruptions are likely. Roads could be rendered impassable in some locations, and severe flooding and wind damage is possible at Douglas-Charles Airport (DOM) and Martinique Aime Cesaire International Airport (FDF). Retreat from the coasts of the islands is advisable. 

Meteo France has issued an red cyclone alert for Guadeloupe. Significant storm surge is possible on south-facing coasts on Basse-Terre, Grande-Terre, and the department's island dependencies. Evacuations are possible in low-lying areas in and around Pointe-a-Pitre. Up to 40 cm (16 inches) of rainfall is possible on the island, which could lead to severe flash flooding, landslides, and road damage. Major agricultural losses are likely. 

Leeward Islands 
Tropical storm-force winds and very heavy rainfall are likely in many of the same islands where Hurricane Irma caused severe to catastrophic damage earlier in September. The center of circulation is not forecast to pass over Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Barthelemy, or Anguilla, but torrential rain and strong winds will hamper relief efforts on these islands. Despite not being in the direct path of the storm, windblown debris could pose a significant threat to public safety. Hurricane Maria will likely cause damage and widespread power outages on islands south of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, including Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Montserrat. The center of circulation may pass within 190 km (118 miles) of Montserrat, and very heavy rainfall may cause debris flows on the slopes of the Soufriere Hills. Exclusion areas below the volcanic complex are uninhabited, but mudflows and/or severe flooding could occur in the Belham Valley. 

Virgin Islands 
Most of the US and British Virgin Islands are not in the direct path of the storm, but storm effects are possible on Saint Croix. The system is expected to pass just south of the island as a major hurricane, and small changes to the storm track could bring the center of circulation closer to St. Croix. Severe damage to island infrastructure is possible, which is a major cause for concern since Saint Croix has been the primary staging area for relief efforts in the US and British Virgin Islands. Looting could be a problem, although officials could impose a curfew, and US National Guard troops and police have been operating in the US Virgin Islands to help local law enforcement maintain order. 

Ships that have been supporting relief efforts will have to leave port, flight operations will be suspended at airports serving the islands, and efforts to restore power will have to be suspended when the storm approaches. Flooding and additional storm damage will likely complicate recovery efforts throughout the Virgin Islands. 

Puerto Rico 
The storm is currently forecast to make landfall along the southern coast.

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