Dramatic Photos: Hurricane Maria Batters Caribbean

Dramatic Photos: Hurricane Maria Batters Caribbean

Irma, also a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 Monday.

Maria regained rare Category 5 strength, the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, as it churned about 150 miles (240 km) southeast of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. forecasters said.

The Category 5 hurricane, which is passing over the Caribbean islands just two weeks after Hurricane Irma paved a deadly and similar deadly destructive path there, caused "extensive damage" in Dominica, according to the Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

He said in a Facebook post: "The winds have swept away the roofs of nearly every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with". He said his initial focus would be on rescuing trapped people and securing medical aid for the injured.

The National Hurricane Center said Maria is expected to produce rain accumulations up to 25 inches in isolated areas of Puerto Rico and up to 20 inches in isolated areas of the central and southern Leeward Islands and the USA and British Virgin Islands.

Meanwhile, Martinique Island declared a state of maximum alert, while another French island, Guadeloupe, ordered the evacuation of the population.

The NHC called the storm "potentially catastrophic" - barely a week after Hurricane Irma tore through the same region. Swells generated by the storm are now affecting much of the US east coast as well as Bermuda, the Bahamas and the northern coasts of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

Major national airlines have warned travelers of possible flight cancellations and delays as Category 5 Hurricane Maria made landfall Monday in the Caribbean.

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The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Kenneth Mapp, said Maria would pass within 10 miles (16 km) of the island of St. Croix, which escaped the brunt of Irma on September 6. The island is home to about 55,000 year-round residents, roughly half of the entire territory's population.

At an evening news conference, he predicted most islanders would be without electricity for weeks, and that "some folks will not get power in months". A curfew would be imposed starting at 10 a.m. local time on Tuesday, he said.

The Foreign Office is advising against all travel to the BVI, warning residents to identify shelter "immediately" and be ready to take cover when the hurricane approaches, as well as all but essential travel to Montserrat.

Martin Phillips, a volunteer who is helping with the relief effort, said: They've lost virtually everything. "I believe my residence may have sustained some damage".

In addition to government aid, the British Virgin Islands has received help from a group of sailors from Puerto Rico, who have always been visiting the territory on holiday and wanted to help.

On islands already devastated by Irma, there are fears that a second hit could make a unsafe situation even worse by kicking up piles of debris.

Emergency steps are being undertaken on the BVI to prepare for the looming onslaught, although an official co-ordinating the operation has warned the islands had been "weakened" by Irma and the situation "doesn't look good".

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