SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria regained strength Thursday morning as it continued to ravage the Caribbean, with the Turks and Caicos islands next in its crosshairs.
The Category 3 storm lashed the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with heavy rain and 115-mph winds.
It is likely to strengthen over the warm waters of the Turks and Caicos, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said. The low-lying islands are particularly at risk of high storm surges.
The best case scenario, he said, is that the storm could skirt the island chain 40-50 miles to the east.
The storm has left a trail of destruction over the past few days, devastating the island nation of Dominica and the US and British Virgin Islands before slamming into Puerto Rico.
Here’s what has happened on the islands that have already felt Maria’s impact:
Dominican Republic Bracing for flooding
Dominican officials said they were taking a cue from neighboring Puerto Rico’s experience — and were concerned about the potential for flooding from the heavy rainfall.
After Hurricane Irma passed through the country just days ago, the ground is still saturated and the rivers swollen.
As Maria regained strength early Thursday, the country was not expecting a direct landfall — the center of the storm was about 43 miles (70 km) west of Punta Cana, a popular resort city.
Airports have been shut down but are expected reopen at noon Thursday.
Stranded tourists have been moved into interior rooms of their hotels, leaving oceanfront suites and villas empty.
Puerto Rico: ‘100% without power’
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Maria is the “most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history.”
The island’s energy grid took such a severe blow from Maria that restoring power to everyone may take months, he told CNN.
The US territory has been through a long recession and is deeply in debt and has a state-owned power grid that is “a little bit old, mishandled and weak,” Rosselló told “Anderson Cooper 360˚.”
“It depends on the damage to the infrastructure,” he said. “I’m afraid it’s probably going to be severe. If it is … we’re looking at months as opposed to weeks or days.”
Retired army veteran Manuel Torres called the devastation of Maria the worst he’d ever seen. His mother’s house in La Perla, an oceanfront community in old San Juan, was completely destroyed. Emerging after the storm had passed, Torres found their three-story home reduced to two stories, and was missing a roof.
Angela Magaña, a UFC fighter who lives in the area, said neighbors were helping each other.
“We need cleanup, water, food, and generators,” she told CNN.
“There are a lot of old people here who are going without necessities. We need to rebuild and restructure, and we need prayers. Any kind of help we can get because it’s a mess right now.”
While the winds have subsided as the hurricane continues to move to the northwest, continued heavy rain in the mountainous country means there is still heavy flooding.
The National Weather Service in San Juan tweeted in the early hours of Thursday that the island is now “completely under a Flash Flood Warning. If possible, move to higher ground NOW.”
The weather service also tweeted: “catastrophic flash flooding continues with multiple Flash Flood.”
The island’s airports are closed until Friday if not Saturday, CNN’s Derek Van Dam said, pending proper inspection.
US President Donald Trump sent a message to Rosselló via his verified Twitter account, saying the US government is “with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe!”
Dominica: Nation in ‘survival mode’
At least 14 people are dead after the hurricane barreled through the island nation and many of those who survived have “gone into survival mode,” Charles Jong, a spokesman for Dominica prime minister’s office, told CNN.
Jong said he had exhausted his supplies of food and water, and that there was widespread looting on the island.
The spokesman said he has been through “Hurricanes Hugo, Gilbert, Lenny, and many others in St. Kitts, but being in Dominica for Maria was the most horrifying experience.”
Jong said the island’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, is “homeless,” and is “bunking up in an area called St. Aroment.” He added that Skerrit is considering moving into the “State House where the president lives.”
For the island’s 73,000 residents, there are urgent needs for water, food and medical equipment.
“The need is great,” Philmore Mullin, head of Antigua and Barbuda’s National Office of Disaster Services, said. “Damage is severe and widespread. We know of casualties, but not in detail. We’ve heard of many missing, but we just don’t know much at the moment.”
A flight Wednesday over the island nation revealed that the storm showed no mercy. CNN saw thousands of trees, snapped and strewn across the landscape, the island was stripped of vegetation.
CNN also saw evidence of dozens of landslides, although not in population centers. The usually blue green seas in many places are now a muddy brown from the earth swept down hillsides and into the water.
Virgin Islands: Homes destroyed
Images showed the scale of the destruction that Maria caused as it barreled past the US and British territories.
Retired NYPD Detective Austin Fields, who has lived in the US Virgin Islands for 17 years, told CNN that his home was trashed by the storm.
He was staying with friends when Hurricane Maria came through St. Thomas, so he wasn’t able to see what happened to his house until this afternoon.
“My home is no longer a home,” he said. “Hasn’t hit me yet, but it will.”
Trump declared that a major disaster exists in the US Virgin Islands and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson rode out Hurricane Irma in his wine cellar on his private island in the British Virgin Islands. He spoke to CNN’s “New Day,” giving the message: “Climate change is real.”
“Look, you can never be 100% sure about links,” Branson said after CNN anchor John Berman asked if he saw a correlation between the recent hurricanes and climate change.
“But scientists have said the storms are going to get more and more and more intense and more and more often. We’ve had four storms within a month, all far greater than that have ever, ever, ever happened in history.
“Sadly, I think this is the start of things to come.”