Hurricane Maria Strengthens to Category 3 Storm in Atlantic; Eyes Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria Strengthens to Category 3 Storm in Atlantic; Eyes Puerto Rico”

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria had maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour in the early evening.

Forecasters say that the "potentially catastrophic" hurricane with 160 miles per hour winds will likely travel over the Leeward Islands and the extreme northeast Caribbean through Monday night and Tuesday.

If Maria retains its strength, it would be the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, since a Category 4 storm swept the USA island territory in 1932, Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

The Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands can expect as much as 12 to 20 inches of rain from the storm.

A US Air Force Reserve C-130 Hurricane Hunter data measured the intense storm, which heightens the chance of life-threatening storm surge and "hitting the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico". Puerto Rico hasn't had a direct hit from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins warned, saying that the storm could be "catastrophic".

The tiny island of Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma on Sept 5 to 6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top-intensity Category 5 storm.

In addition to government aid, the British Virgin Islands has received help from a group of sailors from Puerto Rico, who have always been visiting the territory on holiday and wanted to help.

In addition 10-15 inches of rain will be possible across the islands, with isolated areas getting up to 20 inches, which raises the risk of flooding and mudslides.

Puerto Rico was spared the full brunt of Irma although much of the island had its power knocked out.

Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 Monday.

"The government is prepared", Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a Facebook post, "and we ask of citizens preparation, attention, and action".

Officials in Dominica closed schools and government offices and urged people to evacuate and seek shelters.

Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.

Elsewhere, in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is producing unsafe surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the United States. It was not expected to make landfall, but a tropical storm warning was in effect for coastal areas in Rhode Island and MA. Tropical storm watches were posted for parts of New York's Long Island and CT.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lee weakened into a tropical depression far out in the Atlantic while Otis strengthened into a hurricane out in the Pacific.

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