Hurricane Maria heads away from Puerto Rico; expected turn to the north far off U.S. coast
After devastating much of Puerto Rico, a briefly weakened Hurricane Maria regained strength Thursday as it swept into warm waters off the Dominican Republic ahead of an expected turn north well off the U.S. coast in the Atlantic.
In the meantime, Maria raked the northern tier of the Dominican Republic and bore down on the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas, all under a hurricane warning.
The powerful storm has killed at least 19 people in its march through the Caribbean, including 15 in Dominica and two in Guadeloupe.
Dominica 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.”
As of 11 p.m. ET, Maria packed winds of 125 mph and was 65 miles east-southeast of Grand Turk Island, the National Hurricane Center said. It was moving northwest at 9 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from the center of the storm.
While moving away from Puerto Rico, the storm is so large it was expected to continue dumping rain on the island, with an extra 4 to 8 inches likely through Saturday. In some parts of the island, the total rainfall from the storm is expected to be up to 40 inches.
The powerful storm knocked out power to the entire island of more than 3 million people, and collapsed its telecommunications services.
While Hurricane Irma sideswiped Puerto Rico two weeks ago, leaving more than 1 million people without power, Maria blew out windows at some hospitals and police stations, turned streets into roaring rivers and destroyed hundreds of homes across the island. Storm surge of more than 4 feet swept away about 80% of houses in one small fishing community near San Juan Bay.
"God is with us," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló tweeted as pummeling winds and horizontal rain paralyzed the island. "We are stronger than any hurricane. Together we will rise."
He said afterward that the destruction in the city of Moca in far northwest Puerto Rico is "massive."
In New York, where he is attending United Nations meetings, President Trump said Thursday that Puerto Rico was “absolutely obliterated” by Maria. He said the island's electrical grid is “totally destroyed” and noted “it wasn’t in good shape to start off with.” Trump told reporters he discussed the situation with acting Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert and that they will start the recovery process “with great gusto.”
Maria's slow grind over Puerto Rico sapped it of power, but its trek over warm, open waters boosted the storm back to a Category 3 strength early Thursday. It's expected to strengthen even more as it sweeps to the northwest.
Tropical Storm Jose, which has moved far to the north off the U.S. coast, is largely responsible for Maria's expected northward turn, says Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist. By weakening a high pressure ridge over the eastern U.S. and much of the Atlantic, Jose opened a path for Maria's expected critical northward turn late this week and into the weekend.
As of 5 p.m. ET, Jose's 50-mph sustained winds were driving rip currents and rough surf along much of the East Coast, a pattern that should continue for a few days. The storm was nearly stationary, spinning about 155 miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass.
The hurricane center said a tropical storm warning was in effect for Cape Cod, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Contributing: Associated Press