MEXICO CITY — It was about midnight, as Hurricane Maria was battering the Caribbean nation of Dominica, that Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit took to Facebook. Roofs everywhere, he wrote, were being torn off by the powerful storm’s winds. He himself had to be rescued from his official residence.
“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds,” he said, describing the damage as “mind boggling.”
And then silence. From Skerrit — and, it appears, from the rest of the island.
As the storm, described by the National Hurricane Center as “potentially catastrophic,” moved toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday, little could be learned about the conditions on Dominica. By early Tuesday morning, phone and internet signals on Dominica appeared to be down, leaving the island virtually incommunicado.
The island of 72,000 was hit with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 mph.
“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” Skerrit said on Facebook. “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”
He said the island’s immediate priority was to rescue people who were trapped and provide medical care to the injured. “I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating … indeed, mind boggling,” Skerrit said.
Hurricane Maria is the third in a string of devastating hurricanes to sweep through the region in recent weeks. Local news organizations, citing the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said there were preliminary reports of six deaths in Dominica, but cautioned that the reports were unconfirmed.
Early reports suggested that the neighboring islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique had not been as badly hit as Dominica, though at least one person was killed on Guadeloupe, by a falling tree, officials in the French overseas territory reported. Officials in Guadeloupe also said that two people were reported missing after their boat sank off the island of Désirade, part of the territory’s archipelago.
Guadeloupe residents were struck less by the power of the slow-moving storm than how long it lingered.
“We spent the whole night holding a door that was shaking,” said Colette Cyrille, 52. “We tried to put beds, tables, wood, anything to keep it shut. I haven’t slept all night.”
Guadeloupe has been a staging ground for the regional aid response to Hurricane Irma, which battered the Caribbean two weeks ago. It has also been a refuge for people from St. Martin, an island hit hard by Hurricane Irma. So the arrival of Maria could compound the difficulties involved in recovering from the disasters.
The territory’s prefect urged civilians to remain in their homes and shelters to allow emergency crews to clear the streets of fallen power cables and debris, and said the military would be deployed to help the police maintain order.
The French island of Martinique, to the south of Dominica, suffered limited damage, French government officials said. Two people reported minor injuries, two localities lost water service and between 25,000 and 33,000 households lost power.
But some restaurants on the beaches were badly damaged, including in Le Carbet, in the northwest part of Martinique.
“This is a disaster for Le Carbet,” Marcel Palmont, a restaurant owner, told a local news site. “The economy of the restaurants took a big hit. I have been here for 25 years. I have rebuilt four times. I think it will be the last time.”
Jacques Witkowski, France’s head of civil security, said he had ordered local officials on Martinique to make a reconnaissance flight over Dominica to survey the damage. If the government there requires help, the French authorities will send rescue teams to the island, he said at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday morning.
Around 250 military personnel and firefighters are scheduled to leave from France’s mainland to its overseas territories on Thursday, complementing a force of 4,600 military personnel and search-and-rescue teams already on French islands in the Caribbean, Witkowski said.
As the hurricane blew west-northwest through the Caribbean on Tuesday morning, residents in the British Virgin Islands raced to prepare for its arrival. The debris left behind by Hurricane Irma is still piled high on the sides of roads and homes remain damaged, but crews operating heavy machinery were trying to clear as much of the wreckage as possible Tuesday morning while marina workers secured boats.
“We are all stressed trying to finish what needs to be done before we have to hunker down,” said Christine Perakis, who rents an apartment on Tortola where she weathered Hurricane Irma. “What makes us hopeful is that we took Irma head-on, and this one is about 60 miles away.”
For Hurricane Maria, Perakis was staying with friends who live in the island’s marina and have opened their home to outsiders. For now, there is food and water as they count down to another hurricane, holed up inside the house.
“I don’t know what they did to get two hurricanes in a row,” she said. “I’ll gladly do some rain dances to stop this.”