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article imagePuerto Ricans brace for 'worst storm in last century'

By Nelson DEL CASTILLO (AFP)     Sep 19, 2017 in World

Puerto Ricans scrambled Monday to board up windows and get last minute supplies as a potential catastrophic Hurricane Maria headed toward the US commonwealth two weeks after it was raked by Hurricane Irma,

"I'm not denying I'm scared. I feel worried because it's the first time I'll see a hurricane of this magnitude," said schoolteacher Noemi Aviles Rivera, 47, who experienced Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998.

"I am well prepared, I have everything I need for the moment, but I worry about the anxiety it causes people because it is contagious," she told AFP.

Maria devastated the Caribbean island of Dominica on Monday, where it made landfall as a top intensity Category Five Hurricane, and now the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are in its sights, US forecasters say.

The storm is forecast to land Wednesday in Puerto Rico, a densely populated island with a mountainous interior and vulnerable stretches of beachfront.

Long lines formed outside gas stations in San Juan and hotels and businesses in the city's tourist hotspots boarded up windows.

Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello urged people to flee vulnerable areas ahead of "the worst storm of the last century".

The National Hurricane Center expects rainfall of 17 to 24 inches (45 to 63cm) in Puerto Rico, and storm surge of six to nine feet (two to three meters).

Rossello also warned communications could go down, and banned the sale of alcohol in the US territory for 48 hours.

Roberto Garcia, director of the US National Meteorological Service in Puerto Rico, described Maria as "extremely dangerous."

"We have not had a threat this big probably since 1928, with San Felipe. This is about the same intensity," Garcia said.

In 1928, Category Five Hurricane Okeechobee -- also known as San Felipe Segundo -- killed 300 people in Puerto Rico, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.

Rossello added the government has 40 contractors ready to begin work on restoring communications, and 214 volunteer rescue workers.

Meanwhile, 500 shelters with a total capacity of 66,826 people have been opened -- although they can fit 133,352 people if demand is extremely high.

President Donald Trump has already declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico to allow for the release of federal funding.

Alejandro de la Campa, of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said the agency also has ships, helicopters and specialists poised to respond.

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