Hurricane Maria: Puerto Rico residents told to 'evacuate or die' with hours before 175mph winds smash into island

‘If you are in a flood zone, your life is in danger,’ Governor Ricardo Rosselló says

Chantal da Silva
Wednesday 20 September 2017 10:39 BST
The Category 5 storm is expected to make landfall on the territory by Wednesday morning or early afternoon
The Category 5 storm is expected to make landfall on the territory by Wednesday morning or early afternoon (EPA)

Puerto Rican authorities have warned residents to “evacuate or die”, with just hours to go before Hurricane Maria tears through the island with winds up to 175mph.

Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the region in nearly a century, has already barreled through island nations across the Caribbean, leaving widespread devastation in its wake.

The Category 5 storm killed one person and injured two others as it tore through Guadeloupe on Monday evening, officials on the French island confirmed.

Maria is expected to make landfall in Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning or early afternoon, before making its way to the Dominican Republic in the evening, according to the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC).

As of Tuesday night, the NHC in Miami said the storm’s winds had intensified to 175 mph and could become stronger still.

“You have to evacuate – otherwise, you are going to die. I do not know how to make this any clearer,” the territory’s commissioner of public safety Héctor Pesquera warned in an interview with Telemundo, NBC’s Spanish-language network.

Puerto Rican governor Ricardo Rosselló echoed the warning, saying: “If you are in a flood zone, your life is in danger. If you are in a wooden house, your life is in danger.”

He told reporters that Maria “promises to be much more devastating” than Hurricane Irma, which killed at least 70 people as it ripped through the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States earlier this month.

A handout from the US National Hurricane Centre shows an experimental time of arrival and possible track of tropical storm Maria (EPA)

Many residents have heeded the warnings, leaving the normally crowded streets and beaches of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, empty by Tuesday afternoon, as families raced to move out of the area in search of safe shelter.

Officials said nearly 2,800 people had arrived at shelters across the island, with 105 pets, by late Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency in the US territory, tweeting: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you – will be there to help!”

Describing the storm as “potentially catastrophic” the NHC said any last preparations against the “life-threatening storm surge and rainfall, flooding and destructive winds” should be “rushed to completion”.

In addition to winds strong enough to pull roofs off of homes and buildings, Maria could bring as much as 25 inches of rain to Puerto Rico, putting those already living in flood-prone and mudslide-prone areas at risk.

Additional reporting by PA

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