Still working on recovery and relief efforts in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma, federal officials were looking at the chance of even more damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as rapidly intensifying Hurricane Maria seemed to be taking dead aim at an area in the Caribbean which just experienced major troubles from Irma earlier this month.
"Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane," the National Hurricane Center reported in its evening update about the progress of the storm, noting that "all indications are that rapid intensification is continuing."
As President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for both U.S territories, the forecast showed Maria moving near the Virgin Islands on Tuesday, and then directly over Puerto Rico by Wednesday with winds of 150 mph, a scenario that could well mean more damage for the U.S. government to deal with.
"Maria’s impact on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico may well make Maria the third Category 4 billion-dollar hurricane for the U.S. this year, in addition to Harvey and Irma," wrote storm expert Dr. Jeff Masters, on his hurricane blog at Weather Underground.
The forecast was especially bad news for the Virgin Islands, which already suffered major damage during Hurricane Irma .
With the hurricane heading straight for those American possessions in the northeastern Caribbean, several major airlines joined on Monday to run last minute 'mercy flights' from St. Croix to the U.S. mainland.
The Tourism Commissioner of the Virgin Islands said the free flights on JetBlue to Orlando, Delta to Atlanta, and American to Miami had all quickly filled to capacity, as people looked to get out of areas that were already suffering from Irma's damage.
"We are trying to accommodate passengers (priority is given to persons with medical needs, pregnant women, the elderly and women with young children)" said Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who also had praise for several major cruise ship lines, which also took people away from the Virgin Islands in recent days.
In Puerto Rico, the Governor and other officials were warning residents to find adequate shelter, as the outer bands of Maria were expected to start impacting that island on Tuesday, after hitting other islands in the Caribbean.
While the long range forecast was unclear on whether Maria might threaten the East Coast of the United States, it seems very clear that extra disaster relief will be needed in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, making this an even more expensive year in terms of hurricane relief for Uncle Sam.