Hurricane Maria
9/22/2017 3:00:00 PM
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Posting Date: 9/22/2017 3:00:00 PM

Hurricane Maria has been another major catastrophe for the central Caribbean region, compounding the damage done by Hurricane Irma just two weeks ago. It spared a few islands devastated by Irma, but brought additional destruction to others, and wrecked some locations that had escaped Irma’s wrath. But, with widespread power outages that are expected to last for an extended period of time, communications blackouts, and blocked roads, it is too soon for a comprehensive picture of damage to emerge. AIR continues to gather data on Hurricane Maria’s impact on islands in the Caribbean and, in particular, on Puerto Rico. Thus AIR plans to provide a full loss posting with event sets early next week.


Hurricane Maria slammed into Dominica on Tuesday as a Category 5 storm, devastating the island and triggering widespread flooding in adjacent Guadeloupe. It weakened briefly to a Category 4, then intensified again to Category 5 as it cut west-northwest over the warm waters of the northeastern Caribbean Sea. The eyewall brushed the western edge of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands on Tuesday night, bringing storm surge and large waves to southern shores.

Maria was downgraded slightly to Category 4 before it made landfall on Puerto Rico near the town of Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. ET, Wednesday, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. This was Puerto Rico’s first direct landfall from a Category 4 tropical cyclone since the notorious San Ciprian hurricane in 1932. Maria lost some organization as it interacted with Puerto Rico’s mountains but brought a storm surge anticipated to be 6 to 9 feet in some areas and inundated the country with 12 to 18 inches of rain, with higher amounts in some locations. Maintaining its track, it then passed close offshore of the northeast coast of Hispaniola delivering heavy precipitation, Category 3 winds, and storm surge to the northern Dominican Republic, and, to a slightly lesser degree, to northern Haiti. All warnings for the Dominican Republic have now been discontinued.

Reported Impacts


According to early reports, the mountainous island of Dominica, with a population of 72,000, has been left in ruins by Hurricane Maria and at least 15 people have been killed. The prime minister stated that severe roof damage is extensive throughout the island, and the roof of his own house was blown off. Phone and internet connection was down as of Tuesday morning, and radio stations across the country were silent. Airports and seaports are expected to be closed for several days, confounding relief efforts. Landslides and universal power outages are reported as well as significant damage to structures including the main hospital and police station. The island’s lush rain forests and sugarcane, banana, and citrus fruit plantations—on which its agriculture-based economy relies—appear to have largely vanished.


Maria passed south of Guadeloupe, subjecting it to tropical storm–force winds. Early reports show downed trees and some severely flooded homes and streets, mostly along the southern coast. Some 80,000 households lost power. Guadeloupe has been a staging ground for the regional aid response to Hurricane Irma’s impact on neighboring islands, and these efforts are now compromised. Almost all of the banana plantations on the island have reportedly been affected. On Saturday, France will declare a natural disaster for Guadeloupe, opening the door to aid and giving companies or individuals 10 days in which to file a claim with their insurers.

Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands escaped the worst impacts of Hurricane Maria, and fresh damage there is reportedly relatively low. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, additional damage has occurred. President Trump issued a federal disaster declaration for the islands in advance of the storm. Maria began impacting them with wind and rain at about 2:00 p.m. Wednesday; hurricane-strength winds were experienced from around 10:00 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. Thursday. There are reports of widespread downed trees, lost roofs, blocked roads, and power outages. St. Croix, which escaped harm during Hurricane Irma and has been serving as a staging ground helping nearby islands recover from that storm, was severely damaged.

Puerto Rico

President Trump made an emergency declaration ahead of Maria’s arrival to enable the provision of federal assistance; it will be needed. As well as enduring hurricane strength winds the island was drenched with heavy rainfall; some locations received as much as 35 inches through the duration of the storm. On Thursday morning the entire island was under a Flash Flood Warning. Early reports suggest that much of the island has been devastated. The entire island lost power because the state-owned power grid was destroyed, and it may not be fully repaired for months. Communications are challenging, with 95% of cell phone towers reportedly toppled. Many towns have been cut off by landslides, floods, or torrents of muddy water; widespread damage is reported. The mayor of Cataño on the northern coast reports, for example, that 80% of the homes in the Juana Matos neighborhood, which had fortunately been evacuated, are destroyed. There has been looting, and the island’s Governor has announced a nightly 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew until Saturday morning. The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport will reopen Friday for limited commercial and military flights bringing emergency supplies. Planes will also begin to survey remote and inaccessible regions of the island to assess damage.

Dominican Republic

Hurricane Maria regained strength as it moved away from Puerto Rico Wednesday night. It passed the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm delivering winds of 115 mph and heavy rainfall. As well as extensive wind damage to buildings and vegetation, widespread flooding is likely given the precipitation being experienced and the saturated ground and swollen rivers resulting from Hurricane Irma’s passage. As much as 16 inches of rain was forecast to fall on northern and eastern parts of Hispaniola.

Forecast Track and Intensity

Hurricane Maria passed just east of the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas early on Friday, strengthening slightly as it moved across the warm ocean. Water levels may be raised 9 to 12 feet above normal tide levels by storm surge within the hurricane warning area. About 8 to 16 inches of rainfall is expected in this region through Saturday, with as much as 20 inches in isolated areas. Hurricane-force winds currently extend outward up to 70 miles (110 km) from the center, and tropical storm–force winds extend outward up to 160 miles (260 km).

The storm has begun to turn toward the north-northwest and is expected to veer toward the north by late Saturday, passing to the east of the Bahamas through Sunday. It is forecast to weaken gradually over the next 48 hours. It is still unclear how close it will pass to the U.S. coast and what, if any, impact it may have on the Atlantic Seaboard.


Track map for Hurricane Maria issued at 2 p.m. ET, Friday, September 22. (Source: NHC)

Hurricane Maria
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