Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday pledged Jamaica's assistance to Caribbean nations impacted by major hurricanes in recent weeks as Hurricane Maria headed towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, with the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warning of a “potentially catastrophic” impact after the storm battered Dominica and other territories in the Eastern Caribbean.

“I am in touch with the prime ministers from the Eastern Caribbean. Our prayers are with them as they seek to recover from these tragedies. Jamaica stands with them in their time of need,” Holness said. “Jamaica stands ready to assist our Caribbean neighbours. We are calling on the private sector to also assist where possible.”

Yesterday, Dominica's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerritt issued an SOS, saying that his country will need help of all kinds.

“Initial reports are of widespread devastation. So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. 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,” Skerritt said.

“I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating... indeed, mind boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured,” he added.

“It is too early to speak of the condition of the air and seaports, but I suspect both will be inoperable for a few days. That is why I am eager now to solicit the support of friendly nations and organisations with helicopter services, for I personally am eager to get up and get around the country to see and determine what's needed,” said the prime minister, whose official residence was also severely damaged.

Yesterday, the NHC advised that “Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches” the British and US territories.

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The NHC said the eye of Maria would move over the north-eastern Caribbean Sea yesterday, and then pass over or near the Virgin Islands overnight and Puerto Rico today.

Arriving just as islanders in the region are struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma, which struck earlier this month, Maria claimed its first victim in Guadeloupe.

Agence France Presse reported authorities on the French island as saying that the person was killed by a falling tree as powerful winds whipped the archipelago, while two more people disappeared when their boat went missing in the storm.

St Martin, a French-Dutch island that was among the worst hit by Irma, with 14 dead, was under a maximum “violet” alert, with people ordered to stay indoors.

A similar measure was in place in the British Virgin Islands.

“Our islands are extremely vulnerable right now,” the territory's premier, Orlando Smith, said in a statement warning that the storm could turn debris left by Irma into dangerous projectiles.

On Puerto Rico people were bracing for possibly one of the worst storms to hit the island.

“I'm not denying I'm scared. I feel worried, because it's the first time I'll see a hurricane of this magnitude,” said schoolteacher Noemi Aviles Rivera, 47, who experienced Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998.

Guadeloupe was serving as a base for aid flights to Irma-hit French territories after the hurricane, and there were fears that major damage there could hamper the relief operation.

Authorities said there were few reports of damage to buildings so far, though several areas around the largest city, Pointe-a-Pitre, were flooded and fallen trees were blocking many roads.

Some 40 per cent of households in the territory of 400,000 are without power.

“Everything around me is shaking,” former French minister Victorin Lurel told BFMTV from his home in the south of the island.

The Dominican Republic, whose east coast was battered by Irma, ordered citizens in part of the north to evacuate ahead of Maria's arrival.

St Kitts and Nevis, the British island of Montserrat, Culebra and Vieques are also on alert.

Britain, France and The Netherlands boosted resources for the Caribbean ahead of the storm after facing accusations that they were ill-prepared for the damage done by Irma in their overseas territories.

“We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst,” said Chris Austin, head of a UK military task force set up to deal with Irma.

France said 110 more soldiers would be deployed to the region after widespread complaints of looting and lawlessness on St Martin after Irma.

Building supplies were hurriedly flown in to help islanders repair roofs torn off by Irma as Maria approached.

Already the island has seen a lot of rain over the past 24 hours and winds of 100 kph, according to local politician Daniel Gibbs.

“This (Maria) will not be as strong as Irma, but you have to take shelter” from the storm, he said.

Irma left around 40 people dead altogether in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the toll of deaths linked to the hurricane rose to 58 yesterday.

The hurricane broke records when it whipped up winds of 295 kilometres per hour for more than 33 hours straight.

French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking in New York where he is attending the UN General Assembly, said the lethal sequence of hurricanes is “one of the direct consequences of global warming”.

The French leader said he had spoken to US President Donald Trump about the issue earlier yesterday.

Macron hosted Trump in Paris in July when he sought to persuade the US leader to reconsider his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Holness also revealed that Jamaica has coordinated airlift for Jamaicans from St Martin and the British Virgin Islands.

He noted that while the Jamaican Government doesn't have any airlift capacity it will do what it can.

Holness also urged Jamaicans to continue to be prepared as the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season remains active.

The season officially ends on November 30.

— Observer & AFP

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Tags: Hurricane, Maria, caribbean

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