Hurricane Maria thrashed parts of the Dominican Republic with heavy rain and high winds as it passed near its east and north coasts on Thursday after making a direct hit on Puerto Rico, crushing concrete balconies and paralyzing the island with landslides.
Maria has killed at least 10 people as it raged through the Caribbean, the second major hurricane to do so this month, and the US National Hurricane Canter (NHC) said it was headed toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, bringing dangerous storm surges and torrential rain.
It ripped roofs off almost all structures on the island country of Dominica, where seven people were confirmed dead. The toll is expected to climb when searches resume at daybreak.
Maria was ranked a Category 4 storm, near the top end of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), when it hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday as the strongest storm to hit the US territory in nearly 90 years.
It ripped apart homes, snapped power lines and turned roadways into torrents laden with debris as it cut a diagonal swath across the island.
Maria weakened as it went over land in Puerto Rico and picked up strength early on Thursday as it passed over warm Caribbean waters.
It was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) about 70 miles (110 kms) north of Punta Cana, on the east coast of the Dominican Republic, at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT), the NHC said.
Punta Cana, a popular tourist area, was hit with wind gusts of 58 mph (93 kph) and Maria was forecast to bring storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels, of up to 6 feet (1.83 m) in the Dominican Republic, it said.
Maria was expected to pick up strength as it churns toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas. Storm surges on the islands could be as high as 12 feet (3.66 m), it added.