Noting the ever-increasing impact of extreme weather events, top United Nations officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres and Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the General Assembly have urged efforts to boost resilience and strengthen damage mitigation measures.
“[This year’s hurricane season] fits a pattern: changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities into a vicious cycle of shock and recovery,” said Mr. Guterres.
The high-level event in New York came as Hurricane Maria embarked on a trail of devastation through the Caribbean. It is the 13th named Atlantic storm, the seventh hurricane and the fourth major hurricane (above category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale) following Harvey, Irma and Jose.
Maria is following a similar track to Irma, hitting small island developing states which were already battered by Irma. It is exceptionally rare to have two category 5 hurricanes in such a short space of time and on a similar track.
Maria intensified rapidly on 18 September from a category 1 to a category 5 hurricane. It hit the island of Dominica with maximum winds of 257 km/h. It is the first Category 5 hurricane to hit the island. The entire island was under the influence of peak eyewall surface winds. It received more than 150 mm rainfall. The nearby island of Guadeloupe was also badly impacted, according to Meteo-France.
Maria made landfall in the US territory of Puerto Rico on 20 September at 0615 AST (1015 UTC) with maximum sustained winds of 250 km/h. It was forecast to pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic in the evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center which acts as WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Center (RSMC). Early reports indicate that Puerto Rico received three feet (close to a metre) of rain in one day, more than Hurricane Harvey delivered over three days; as a result the entire island is under flash flood warning.
“Maria is an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and it should maintain this intensity until landfall,” said the National Hurricane Center.
The last category 4 storm to hit Puerto Rico was in 1932. Maria is the third category 4 hurricane to make US landfall in the same season, unprecedented in the modern era.
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 150 miles (240 km. NHC is warning of life-threatening storm surge for Puerto Rico and US Virgin islands and some of Leeward islands 6-9 feet above normal (1.8 to 2.7 meters).
There is a risk of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides from heavy rainfall. U.S. and British Virgin Islands may receive an additional 10 to 15 inches (250 to 380 mms), isolated 20 inches (500 mms). Puerto Rico may receive an additional.12 to 18 inches (300 to 460 mms), isolated 25 inches (640 mm).
Dominca, a mountainous island of about 70,000 people, lost all communications after the disaster.
As Hurricane Maria struck, the Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit posted a message on Facebook:
"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. So, far the winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with. The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside. Come tomorrow morning we will hit the road, as soon as the all clear is given, in search of the injured and those trapped in the rubble. 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. We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds. 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," wrote Mr Skerrit