SANTO DOMINGO – The Dominican government declared on Tuesday a nationwide alert and ordered people to evacuate from vulnerable parts of the country as “potentially catastrophic” Hurricane Maria – a Category 5 storm – approached with its arrival expected later in the week.
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) on Tuesday declared a “red alert” for eight provinces, a “yellow alert” for five and a “green alert” for the remaining 19 Dominican provinces.
Simultaneously, the National Weather Office (Onamet) issued a hurricane warning from Cape Engaño, the easternmost point on the island of Hispaniola near the tourist resort city of Punta Cana, to Puerto Plata on the northern coast and a tropical storm warning from Puerto Plata to Manzanillo Bay.
In addition, Onamet issued a tropical storm warning from Cape Engaño to Punta Palenque, on the southern coast.
The Dominican government is in permanent session as the hurricane approaches, with its arrival expected just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, which did not cause any significant damage in the country, although it devastated certain other Caribbean islands and parts of the Florida Peninsula.
President Danilo Medina – who on Monday night announced that he was returning from New York, where he had traveled to participate in the United National General Assembly, due to the storm – headed a meeting on Tuesday with the National Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Committee to take measures to deal with Maria.
It is expected that the hurricane will not directly impact the Dominican Republic, although heavy rains are expected, which concerns local authorities because the ground is already saturated from Irma and other rainfall.
According to current projections, Maria will bring winds of between 75 and 125 kilometers (46 and 78 miles) per hour on Thursday morning to the region near Cape Engaño.
Onamet said that the storm could bring between 150-300 millimeters (6-12 inches) of rain to much of the country, with isolated areas receiving as much as 500 mm (20 inches).
According to the COE chief, Gen. Juan Manuel Mendez, “all contingency plans have been activated” to guard against any eventuality, as Maria approached Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Tuesday after causing serious damage on the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Dominica.
The country’s tourist sector, which is the main source of foreign income for the Dominican Republic, announced on Tuesday that hotels had begun implementing security protocols.
Maria intensified on Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds of 265 kph (164 mph).