Hurricane Maria barreled through the islands that curve through the Caribbean on Monday night as it quickly grew into “a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane” and made landfall in Dominica, the National Weather Service said.
With maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, the storm battered the island of 73,000 people. Ham radio operators reported major damage to buildings, according to the hurricane center, and the island’s prime minister said the roof was ripped off his home.
“I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane,” the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, wrote on Facebook. “House is flooding.” About 10 minutes later, he posted, “I have been rescued.”
Mr. Skerrit told a journalist at the news station Telesur that the island had been devastated.
Early Tuesday, with Maria’s eye having passed over Dominica, the National Hurricane Center downgraded the storm to Category 4. But its winds had diminished only slightly, and the center warned that it could return to Category 5 as it approached the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Residents throughout the Caribbean were preparing for yet another potentially disastrous storm.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Morgane Guyard fled St. Martin, worried about dwindling food supplies and the chaos on her island after the storm ripped through.
On Monday, she was bracing for Hurricane Maria, which was heading straight for the island that she and hundreds of others had escaped to for sanctuary, Guadeloupe.
“This year we are cursed,” Ms. Guyard, 28, said after a morning of last-minute grocery shopping as the hurricane approached. “When will we be able to breathe again? When will all of the hurricanes stop?”
Some islands still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Irma were bracing late Monday for Round 2, closing schools, stores and just about everything else before the storm made landfall.
More than two dozen people were killed by Irma, and on Monday emergency shelters were beginning to fill up on Guadeloupe, Dominica and Montserrat, as well as on the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Those who chose to stay home were busy boarding up their houses, trimming trees or gathering stockpiles of food and water.
Karine Fleury, 47, a psychologist in Martinique, which was also expected to be hit by Maria, said she found out about the storm only on Sunday while shopping for groceries. After that, it was a race to prepare herself — both physically and mentally — for the storm’s landing.
“I know it’s going to be impressive during the storm,” she said. “And when we go out for the first time afterward, seeing the fallen trees and the damage, it’s always scary.”
Though Maria is expected to trace a similar path to Hurricane Irma, some of the islands hit hardest by that storm may be spared. Instead, having escaped the wrath of Irma, Guadeloupe and Dominica were expected to bear the initial brunt of Maria.
But the already storm-battered islands could be affected in other ways. In addition to being the main sanctuary for those evacuating St. Martin, Guadeloupe has also become the staging ground for the relief effort. If the storm hits hard, it could delay or upend the desperately needed aid going to its neighbor.
Though the number of hurricanes passing through the Caribbean feels exceptional this year, experts say it is not unheard-of. Ten years ago, Hurricanes Karl, Igor and Julia were all active at the same time. In 1998, four hurricanes — Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl — passed through the Atlantic at once, according to the hurricane research division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Still, the number of serious storms this year is higher than average.
“None of this is unusual in terms of the number; we are in the peak week of the peak month in what was forecast to be an active season,” said Dennis Feltgen, an agency spokesman. “What is horrific is the succession of Category 4 Harvey, Category 4 and 5 Irma and now” Maria.
A typical season has 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, with three of those becoming major hurricanes. So far this season, which is more than halfway through, there have been 13 named storms, including seven hurricanes, four which have been major.
The constant threat of storms has created a state of agitation among some residents — and some resistance to making the necessary preparations.
“We’re tired of this,” lamented Stan Musquer, 44, an artist in Guadeloupe who says he has been evacuated three times in his life, forced to move all of his belongings ahead of storms that did not strike as badly as anticipated. “We’re tired of this. It’s stressful.”
Local authorities across the region have implored residents to take the warnings seriously. Having suffered season after season of hurricanes, they are fearful residents will shrug off yet another storm. Mr. Skerrit, Dominica’s prime minister, addressed the tiny nation Monday morning, asking residents to remain calm but be prepared.
“I want to say to Dominicans that this is not a time for heroism,” he said. “This much water in Dominica is dangerous given our terrain, and therefore persons should not wait for something to happen in order to take action.”
Preparation for many Caribbean islanders has, by now, become second nature.
“I stocked up as much as possible with fresh water and dried foods,” said Michele Henderson, a musician on Dominica. “I secured my dogs, rabbits and chickens. We boarded up the windows and we are hunkered down in our basement apartment.”
Others said that while they were not worried, they were still taking the proper precautions.
“I’ve seen lots of hurricanes and know what to expect,” said Melissa Roberts, 36, on Dominica. “You stay home, buckle down and wait for it to clear.”
Impending storms are often likened to past storms, especially in the minds of survivors. For those on St. Martin, Hurricane Luis in 1995 was the “big one” until Irma blasted apart their island. On the island of Montserrat, meanwhile, Hurricane Hugo looms large.
“After Hugo, my house was full of glass and coconuts,” said Susan Edgecombe, who runs Tradewinds Real Estate on the island and recalled the attitude that existed before that hurricane in 1989. “Everyone said: ‘There’s not been a hurricane in over 60 years. Don’t stress.’”
“Yeah right,” she snapped. “We didn’t get power for over three months, so now I am the prep queen.”
On the island of Antigua, which Hurricane Irma skirted while destroying nearby Barbuda, Dr. Jillia Bird, an optometrist, said she had once again gone through her familiar pre-hurricane motions, closing storm shutters, moving items off the floor in case of flooding, covering beds with shower curtains and towels to prevent soaking, packing up valuables and moving from her wooden house to her mother’s storm-tested 60-year-old concrete house.
Dr. Bird also chilled her merlot – “in case of power loss,” she said – and found time for an act of generosity toward friends of hers in the British Virgin Islands, which was slammed by Hurricane Irma: She bought credit for their cellphones, “as a kindness gesture as they face another difficult night,” she said.
In St. Kitts and Nevis, the storm has particularly cruel timing, landing on the eve of the 34th anniversary of the island’s independence. The good news for residents there, however, was that most of them had already prepared for Irma, and so had less to do to prepare for Maria.
“Well, following the recent passage of Hurricane Irma, I still have most things in place, like candles, flashlight with batteries and important items in plastic bags,” said Precious Mills, a resident. “I would say that I have basic measures in place to weather the storm.”
While the island escaped largely unscathed from Irma, some homes sustained damage. For John Webster, who lives in the affected area of Newton Ground, that means the patchwork fixes he made to his roof after Irma will have to do for now.
“I had planned to properly fix it, but I am going to wait until this storm has passed,” he said.