Hurricane Maria yesterday blasted toward the storm-battered eastern Caribbean and was expected to strengthen as it churned along a path similar to that of Hurricane Irma earlier in the month.
The new storm, which the US National Hurricane Center warned could become a “major hurricane,” threatens the French territory of Guadeloupe, the staging area for relief operations for several islands hit by Irma.
Guadeloupe yesterday was on “red alert,” with schools, businesses and government offices ordered closed, as was Martinique.
Photo: EPA / US National Hurricane Center
Each has a population of about 400,000 people.
The hurricane was expected to hit at about midday.
Warnings were also triggered for Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, and the British island of Montserrat.
French Minister of the Interior Gerard Collomb on Sunday said in Paris that “we will have major difficulties” if Guadeloupe is hard hit, adding that the territory is “the logistical center from where we could supply Saint Martin and organize all the airlifts.”
Irma killed 15 people on Saint Martin, an island shared by France and the Netherlands.
Officials in Guadeloupe predicted severe flooding in low-lying areas and urged residents to move to higher ground.
France, Britain and the Netherlands have been criticized for the pace of relief efforts and for struggling to contain lawlessness in their overseas territories amid widespread shortages of food, water and electricity after Irma.
However, in Guadeloupe’s capital, Pointe-a-Pitre, local official Josette Borel-Lincertin said authorities had ample experience in preparing for hurricanes.
“We have a culture of risk, we know what needs to be done,” she said.
Collomb said an additional 110 troops would be deployed to the region to reinforce about 3,000 people already at work tackling security problems, rebuilding infrastructure, and supplying food and water to hurricane-hit islanders.
He said up to 500 more people could be sent if needed.
Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, left about 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where at least 20 people were killed.
Maria was a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum sustained winds of 150kph.
Warnings were also in place in Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and Saint Eustatius, and Saint Lucia.
The tiny island of Barbuda was decimated by Irma on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean.
The US National Hurricane Center said Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that would raise water levels by 1.2m to 1.8m when it passes through the eastern Caribbean.
It also forecast a maximum potential rainfall of 51cm in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands through tomorrow night — conditions that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.
A second hurricane, Jose, has triggered storm watches for the northeastern US.
Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.
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