First Irma, now Maria. Here’s how U.S. territories are preparing for disaster

JUDY WOODRUFF: As this afternoon's earthquake struck Mexico, another hurricane, Maria, was blasting the Northern Caribbean.

It's a Category 5, the strongest on the scale, and, in its wake, there's major destruction and at least one death.

Howling winds of 160 miles an hour and driving rain battered the tiny targets of Guadeloupe and Dominica during the night. Before being rescued, Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted live updates from his home, describing the merciless winds, and saying, "We pray for its end."

Then, minutes later: "My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding."

Today, all communications were cut with Dominica. And on Guadeloupe, people waded through floodwaters several feet deep, with cars and buildings partly submerged.

As night came on, the storm roared toward the U.S. Virgin Islands, just days after Hurricane Irma's destruction forced more than 2,000 people to evacuate to Puerto Rico. Maria is on track to pass directly over St. Croix in the Virgin Islands overnight, and then slam into Puerto Rico by early tomorrow morning.

Puerto Rico avoided much of Irma's wrath, but still suffered an estimated $1 billion in damage. Now much worse may lie in store.

Weary residents on Puerto Rico had just started to clear debris and un-board homes after Irma.

ROBERTO LEWIS, Puerto Rico Resident (through interpreter): Puerto Rico is not prepared for this. We are going to have a bad time of it. We ask almighty God that we get through this without serious damage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose rolled up the Atlantic today, spinning off rip currents and big waves along the U.S. East Coast. It is not expected to come ashore.

Hurricane Irma devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands and now they sit directly in Maria's path.

Kenneth Mapp is governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We spoke by phone a short time ago.

Governor Kenneth Mapp, thank you very much for talking with us.

Coming so soon after Hurricane Irma, how are you preparing? How are you trying to make sure people are safe?

GOV. KENNETH MAPP, U.S. Virgin Islands: We have come to really anticipate that they're going to have some rooms breached, maybe some windows blown out.

You're going to get wet. You're going to lose your personal belongings. But we want you is to be safe. And we just went through that 12 days ago on the island of St. Thomas and St. John, with a Cat 5 called Hurricane Irma.

We were pleased that, notwithstanding the devastation, we didn't see any number, any marked number of folks with broken bones, cuts and gashes, and our loss of life still remains at four. And so I think we're literally doing the same thing all over again, except for the southern part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At this hour, Governor Mapp, what is your main worry?

GOV. KENNETH MAPP: Protection of folks, protection of life. Folks are off the street. We have got the shelters open. Folks are in the shelter. And so my biggest priority at this moment and for the next eight hours is the protection of lives and their safety.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Governor, we wish you and all the people of the Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the very best as you try to withstand the storm in the coming hours. Best of luck, and we will talk to you on the other side.

GOV. KENNETH MAPP: Thank you, Judy. Take care. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Puerto Rico dodged the worst of Irma, but now faces a direct hit from Maria.

Ricardo Rossello is Puerto Rico's governor.

Governor Rossello, thank you very much for talking with us.

A dire warning from your public safety commissioner, telling people if they live in wooden or flimsy houses to get out, or they're going to die.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, Puerto Rico: This is the strongest storm that Puerto Rico will face in over a century.

So, the danger is real. And the comments made by officials were directed at making people aware that this is not your average storm. This is going to have grave impact on infrastructure. It's going to provoke a lot of flooding, sustained winds of 160 miles an hour.

So we wanted to make sure people were really aware and cognizant of the need to move to one of our 500 shelters or other family shelters, but to be safe. And once the storm passes, we can start the rebuilding process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are people following those directions? Are you feeling confident about how prepared you are?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: There's typically sort of a late exponential push of people coming into the shelters.

Right now, I'm happy to start seeing those flow in. We have a dashboard as far as tabulating all of the people the are going in. In the outset, we were a little bit nervous, as with Hurricane Irma, but shortly and quickly right now, people are flocking in.

And it's for the best, really. We haven't faced a storm of the ferocity that this storm possesses. And it's better to be safe than sorry and either lose a love one or lose one's life at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We know that Puerto Rico has been under some financial strain in recent years. Is that in any way affecting your ability to be ready for this?

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Not at all. We know what priorities are. And our priority right now is to make sure that we save people's lives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Ricardo Rossello, thank you very much. And we wish you the very best in the hours to come.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO: Thank you. Thank you, Judy.

Recently in Hurricane Maria