Hurricane Maria Upgraded to Category 5

This Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, GOES East satellite image provided by NASA taken at 20:30 UTC, shows the eye of Hurricane Maria as it nears Dominica. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 160 mph (260 kph) winds. (NASA via AP)

This Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, GOES East satellite image provided by NASA taken at 20:30 UTC, shows the eye of Hurricane Maria as it nears Dominica. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Monday evening that Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter planes found that Maria had strengthened into a storm with 160 mph (260 kph) winds. (NASA via AP)

Hurricane Maria intensified into a dangerous Category 5 storm and pounded the small island of Dominica as it surged into the eastern Caribbean on Monday night, and forecasters warned it might become even stronger. The storm was following a path that could take it on Tuesday near many of the islands recently devastated by Hurricane Irma and then head toward a possible direct strike on Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

A series of Facebook posts by Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit captured the fury of the storm as it made landfall on the mountainous island.

“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of increasingly harrowing posts.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs tearing off houses on the small rugged island. A half hour later, he said: “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.”

Seven minutes later he posted that he had been rescued. It was the first official word from Dominica after the eye wall moved ashore.

Rossello said Puerto Rico had prepared 500 shelters capable of taking in up to 133,000 people in a worst-case scenario. Nearly 200 people are still in shelters due to Hurricane Irma. Classes were cancelled and government employees were to work only a half-day. Farther north, long-lived Hurricane Jose continued to head northward well away from the U.S. East Coast but causing dangerous surf and rip currents. It was not expected to make landfall, but a tropical storm warning was in effect for coastal areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Tropical storm watches were posted for parts of New York’s Long Island and Connecticut. Seawater washed over parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks as Jose passed, and five people were knocked off a coastal jetty in Rhode Island by high surf caused by the storm. All five were hospitalized.