Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico on Wednesday as officials urged residents to seek shelter and warned that the Category 4 storm's powerful winds would be life-threatening and necessitate the rebuilding of dozens of communities across the island.
Maria made landfall near the town of Yabucoa with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Early Wednesday, the storm was about 65 miles southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving northwest at 10 mph.
As Maria approached, Héctor Pesquera, Puerto Rico's chief public safety official, said those in low-lying areas needed to evacuate or die. "I don't know how to make this any clearer," he told Telemundo, NBC's Spanish-language network.
"This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. "We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history."
Wednesday, Rossello said more than 11,000 people sought refuge in shelters.
President Trump 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 strongest storm to ever hit Puerto Rico was San Felipe in 1928 with 160 winds mph. The island was spared the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Irma when it tore through the Caribbean, killing 38 there and 36 in the U.S., this month.
Maria killed one person in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe when a tree fell on them Tuesday night, and two people aboard a boat were reported missing off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe. The storm also blew over the tiny eastern Caribbean island of Dominica late Monday. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of posts on his Facebook page, including that his own roof had blown away.
“The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote before communications went down. Skerrit later said Dominica was "devastated."
To the north, Hurricane Jose weakened to a tropical storm Tuesday night. Forecasters said dangerous surf and rip currents were likely to continue along the U.S. East Coast but said the storm was unlikely to make landfall.
Contributing: Associated Press