Hurricane Maria made landfall Wednesday in Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 storm that forecasters described as "potentially catastrophic."
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria had maximum sustained winds of about 250 kilometers per hour Wednesday morning, and that heavy rain would cause life-threatening flash floods and landslides.
Those threats also continued in the U.S. Virgin Islands as the back side of the storm slowly moved across after the outer eye wall hit St. Croix overnight.
The center of the hurricane is expected to cross over Puerto Rico and back into open water late Wednesday, with the storm bringing hurricane conditions to the Dominican Republic by early Thursday.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said "major damage is inevitable" in the U.S. territory and that officials had set up 500 shelters with more than 10,000 people sheltering inside.
"We know this will be tough, but I have faith in our resiliency and our capacity to rebuild," he said.
State of emergency
U.S. President Donald Trump has issued state-of-emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all relief efforts.
Before arriving at the U.S. territories, Hurricane Maria went directly over the island of Dominica, while also nearly making landfall in Guadaloupe.
Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote on Facebook that initial reports indicate "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 up to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains," Skerrit said.
He added that the focus is on finding injured or trapped people in rubble, hopefully with the help of international aid.
"We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds," he said.
Officials on the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe reported at least one death linked to the hurricane.