Monday 23 April 2018

Battered Caribbean islands brace for 'potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Maria

  • Hurricane Maria is upgraded to Category 5 Hurricane
  • Threatens region with its second major storm this month
  • Hurricane barrelling with 160 mile-per-hour winds
Soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and other Army personnel board a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and other Army personnel board a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
This image obtained from the NASA's GOES Project shows Hurricane Maria on September 18, 2017. Maria strengthened Monday as it moved towards the eastern Caribbean, a region already struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Maria had intensified to a Category Two storm as it approached the French territory of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma this month. Photo: Getty Images

Georgina Stubbs

Hurricane Maria has intensified into a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm as it continues on a collision course with British overseas territories already battered by Irma.

The US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said the hurricane, which has recorded winds of more than 160mph, is likely to remain "extremely dangerous" when it approaches the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Emergency steps are being undertaken on the BVI to prepare for the looming onslaught, although an official coordinating the operation has warned the islands had been "weakened" by Irma and the situation "doesn't look good".

Relief workers are racing to secure debris left strewn across the islands that have the potential to make the coming hurricane "more hazardous" if they are picked up by high winds.

Another British overseas territory, Montserrat, has been issued with a hurricane warning amid fears Maria could bring a devastating storm surge, while torrential rain could trigger deadly flash floods.

UK International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, said the Government is under no illusion about the possible impact of the strengthening hurricane and said they are taking steps to prepare communities.

This image obtained from the NASA's GOES Project shows Hurricane Maria on September 18, 2017. Maria strengthened Monday as it moved towards the eastern Caribbean, a region already struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Maria had intensified to a Category Two storm as it approached the French territory of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma this month. Photo: Getty Images
This image obtained from the NASA's GOES Project shows Hurricane Maria on September 18, 2017. Maria strengthened Monday as it moved towards the eastern Caribbean, a region already struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Maria had intensified to a Category Two storm as it approached the French territory of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma this month. Photo: Getty Images

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is advising against all travel to the BVI, warning residents to identify shelter "immediately" and be ready to take cover when the hurricane approaches.

Following a similar path to Irma, Maria's "intense" centre made landfall with Dominica on Monday and the hurricane is expected to reach the British Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

Brigadier John Ridge, the second in command of the UK's Joint Task Force, said whichever direction the hurricane goes, "it is bad".

"They are either going to get the wind, which will pick up all the debris that is lying around," he said.

"And also, irritatingly, where they have made progress in getting covers over the houses and power lines up, it will potentially damage that again.

"Or they get a huge amount of rain, which is also bad because of the blockages in the drainage channels - so the potential for some quite serious flooding as well.

"Whatever happens, it doesn't look good sadly."

Foreign Office officials have also warned against all but essential travel to Montserrat, where residents voiced concerns that the hurricane will strike the island from the south, creating a "very serious" situation.

Meanwhile the NHC has issued a hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the area, for the island of Anguila, a British overseas territory badly affected by hurricane Irma.

Hurricane warnings were posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Martinique and Anguilla.

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