Hurricane Maria now a top Category 5 storm: US Center

Mae Love
September 19, 2017

Forecasters predict that unlike Irma, Maria will have a sharper northwest trajectory, passing through the center of Puerto Rico by Wednesday then east of the Turks and Caicos islands. Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

It was expected to strengthen further into a Category 3 "major hurricane", the NHC warned.

Maria brushed past Barbados and Saint Lucia and was between the French island Martinique and Dominica as it moved west-northwestward.

Many ferries have been taking evacuees to Puerto Rico, which is expected to suffer a direct hit from the monster storm.

According to CNN, Puerto Rico has already called for evacuations in particularly vulnerable areas. It's almost 290 square miles (751 square kilometers) and "slightly more than four times the size of Washington DC".

Dominica's airport and ports have been closed, and the local water company shut down its systems to protect its intake valves from debris churned up by the storm.

"This is not a system that will linger very long". Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another powerful hurricane.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for almost 68,000 people - or even 125,000 in an emergency.

The island is ready to accept close to 63,000 people into 450 shelters, over 125,000 if necessary. But there are six fewer shelters available post-Irma, since some schools still have no electricity.

"We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, since Tuesday up until late on Thursday".

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The storm's maximum sustained winds have reached near 120 miles per hour, with gusts at higher speeds.

Rossell said that Maria's size means all of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions.

If Maria strikes the island as forecast, it will be "more risky than Hugo and Georges", he said. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected.

Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and the British island of Montserrat are also on alert.

Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.

On Martinique, also part of France, energy supplier EDF said power had been cut off from 16,000 homes, although a hurricane warning on the island was later downgraded to a tropical storm.

Back in Dominica, business owners could be seen boarding up their properties earlier in the day, as they prepared to ride out this storm.

"We're hopeful this is the last event for the year", Mapp said. The HMS Ocean is set to arrive in the area at week's end with 60 tons of government supplies.

A strengthening Hurricane Maria churned toward the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean on Monday as forecasters warned it was expected to become a major hurricane by early Tuesday.

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