There is dangerous déjà vu in the Caribbean right now as Hurricane Maria begins tearing across the islands – just two weeks after Hurricane Irma did. And the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are girding for an especially hard hit on Wednesday.
Like Irma, Maria is a Category 5 storm with winds topping 160 miles per hour. It already wrecked the island of Dominica on Tuesday, and should hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and fellow U.S. territory Puerto Rico sometime Wednesday morning.
Puerto Rican officials say Maria may be the strongest storm to strike that island since 1928. It could make landfall near the southeast city of Patillas – where residents told WLRN they’re sheltering in homes they know they may lose.
"How can anyone know if their house can withstand something like this?" said Patillas school teacher Jan Carlo Perez. "This is the unknown for us."
Maria may also pound the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands – which Irma devastated. Local scuba instructor Adam Wilson said St. Thomas has barely had a chance to pick up debris since then.
“The past few days they haven’t even been trying to reinstall power lines or anything like that because they realize this [new] storm is actually going to hit," said Wilson from the hotel he's sheltering at in the St. Thomas city of Charlotte Amalie. "So now they’re trying to secure everything that they’ve already set up so they don’t lose it again.”
Irma killed three people on St. Thomas. Wilson said it’s hard for residents to absorb the surreal prospect of another deadly storm so soon.
“Kind of shock and awe, like, we just barely got done trying to figure out what to do with stuff after the last one, and now there’s another coming that’s going to be just as bad," he said. "Everyone’s just playing the waiting game again, like we just played two weeks ago.”
Maria is expected to turn north after leaving Puerto Rico and not threaten Florida.