ROSEAU, Dominica — Dominica's leader sent out an emotional plea for help as Hurricane Maria smashed into the Caribbean island and caused "mind-boggling" devastation, but an ominous silence followed as the country lost all communications on Tuesday and the Category 5 hurricane barreled toward Puerto Rico, which looked likely to take a direct hit.
As rain began lashing the U.S. territory on Tuesday afternoon, Puerto Rico's governor warned that Maria could hit "with a force and violence that we haven't seen for several generations."
"We're going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico," Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, adding that a likely island-wide power outage and communication blackout could last for days. "We're going to have to rebuild."
Authorities warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm's expected arrival on Wednesday.
"You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you're going to die," said Hector Pesquera, the island's public safety commissioner. "I don't know how to make this any clearer."
The warnings came after Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit sent out a series of dramatic posts on his Facebook page as the storm blew over that tiny country late Monday — but then stopped suddenly as phone and internet connections with the country were cut.
"The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God," Skerrit wrote before communications went down.
A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofing tearing off houses on the small rugged island. He said that even his own roof had blown away.
In the last message before falling silent, he appealed for international aid: "We will need help, my friends, we will need help of all kinds."
The storm knocked out communications for the entire country, leaving anyone outside Dominica struggling to determine the extent of damage, though it was clearly widespread. "The situation is really grave," Consul General Barbara Dailey said in a telephone interview from New York.
She said she lost contact with the island around 4 a.m. At that point, officials had learned that 70 percent of homes had lost their roofs, including her own.
"I lost everything," she said, adding there had been no word on casualties. "As a Category 5 it would be naive not to expect any (injuries) but I don't know how many," she said.
The island's broadcast service was also down on Tuesday and Akamai Technologies, a company that tracks the status of the internet around the world, said most of Dominica's internet service appeared to have been lost by midday. The Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica reported a widespread loss of communication on the island, and relatives of students posted messages on its Facebook page saying they had been unable to talk to their loved ones since late Monday evening as the storm approached.
Dominica is particularly vulnerable to flooding because of its steep mountains, cut through with rivers that rage even after a heavy rain. It was still recovering from Tropical Storm Erika, which killed 30 people and destroyed more than 370 homes in August 2015.
Officials on the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe reported at least one death: a person hit by a falling tree. They said two other people were reported missing after their boat sank off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe.
About 40 percent of the island — 80,000 homes — were without power and flooding was reported in several communities.