In Brief

Hurricane Maria strengthens to category 5

Forecasters predict catastrophic ‘direct hit’ on Puerto Rico later today

Residents of several Caribbean islands are bracing for catastrophic damage after Hurricane Maria intensified into a category 5 storm shortly before making landfall on Dominica.

The US National Hurricane Centre says the storm has sustained winds of 160mph and has developed a “pinhole eye” just ten miles across – a sign that it is likely to get even stronger.

As the storm lashed the island, Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica, announced on Facebook that winds had torn the roof off his home and he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”. He has since been rescued.

Forecasters say the storm is expected to pass directly over Puerto Rico, which was largely spared widespread wind damage earlier this month. “Officials in the US territory warned residents of wooden or otherwise flimsy homes to find safe shelter,” the Associated Press reports.

“You have to evacuate,” said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s public safety commissioner. "Otherwise you’re going to die. I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”

Hurricane warnings are also in place for the US and British Virgin Islands, which suffered severe damage during Hurricane Irma. “British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat,” the BBC reports.

Other islands under Hurricane warnings include St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia, and hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

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