Updated at 11 a.m. ET
After devastating parts of the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had been a Category 5 system, and even downgraded, it packed powerful sustained winds of 155 mph and is the strongest storm to have hit the island in decades.
Maria came ashore near the eastern municipality of Yabucoa. The NHC says the eye will continue its march across the U.S. territory Wednesday morning before heading off the northern coast by afternoon.
“The center will then pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday,” according to the hurricane center. In its 10 a.m. advisory, the NHC said the storm was 20 miles west of San Juan and moving northwestward at 13 mph, with sustained winds of 145 mph.
“Very high winds are just tearing trees apart,” Miguel Santiago with member station WRTU in San Juan reported Wednesday morning. “Most of the island is without power … or water.”
As the punishing winds moved over the island, doors were ripped off hinges, roofs went airborne and widespread flooding was reported in San Juan, according to The Associated Press.
“One of the shelters in San Juan had to relocate refugees to the hallways because of the roof, it was shaking due to the winds,” Santiago said.
The last Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico was in 1932. Most recently, Puerto Rico avoided the worst of Irma, which went on to strike Florida.
In the days before Maria hit the island, Puerto Ricans were urged to heed hurricane warnings and evacuation orders.
“We expect severe devastation,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told NPR on Tuesday. “We have about 500 shelters. People have been trickling into those shelters. But really, we have some weak infrastructure in terms of some of the homes that we have in Puerto Rico.”
By late Tuesday, more than 4,000 people on the island had gone to shelters to wait out Maria, the governor tweeted.
As the storm hit, Rosselló said on Twitter that “God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane. Together we’re going to get up.”
President Trump had earlier offered his support via Twitter: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster Hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you- will be there to help!”
The eye of the storm passed within 20 miles of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands early Wednesday morning, according to the NHC.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned residents to remain cautious as strong winds continued to lash the island. “Don’t be asleep. It’s okay to rest, but be vigilant and aware of what’s going on around your property,” Mapp said, according to The Miami Herald.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the storm blew over the tiny island of Dominica late Monday. An adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says the storm killed at least seven people there, according to the AP.
Skerrit took to social media as the storm hit, posting multiple times about the devastation. He wrote in one entry, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.”
He later said he had been rescued. In his last Facebook post, in the early hours of Tuesday, he said: “Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. … My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured.
“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”
Two people also were killed on the island of Guadeloupe as Maria moved northwest through the Caribbean, the AP reports. Two others aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, officials told the news agency.