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Maria strengthens into unsafe Category 4 hurricane: US NHC

Officials from French-controlled Martinique to the US Virgin Islands warned residents to prepare for the storm, now ranked by US forecasters as a major hurricane, at category three on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The hurricane is projected to make landfall in Puerto Rico by late Wednesday morning, and it may be a Category 4 storm by that point. It was headed west-northwest at about 10 miles per hour on a track that would put it over the USA territory of Puerto Rico by Wednesday.

"This storm promises to be catastrophic for our island", he said.

Hurricane Maria has intensified into an extremely unsafe Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson wind scale and is expected to strengthen further, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Monday. The mammoth storm was moving west-northwest at 9 miles per hour. Among them was Beth Tamplin Jones, 45, who rode out Hurricane Irma earlier this month in the pantry of a friend's house on St. John in the US Virgin Islands. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Anguilla.

"Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye, " the hurricane center warned.

With maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), the storm slammed into the island as a Category 5 hurricane, the NHC said.

Mapp warned that hurricane-force winds were expected to howl across St. Croix for eight hours, accompanied by up to a foot and a half (46 cm) of rain that would be followed by almost a week of additional showers.

For the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from such a strong hurricane.

"FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency", the statement said. Cruise ships have been put into service as rescue vessels. All schools and nonessential public services were closed.

In nearby Martinique, authorities ordered people to remain indoors and said they should be prepared for power cuts and disruption in the water supply.

Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica - and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma - Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become risky projectiles indoors. "Let us continue to pray for our safety".

On Wednesday, Maria was expected to be near or over Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma, although much of the island had its power knocked out. Almost 70,000 people remain without power, and Governor Ricardo Rossello on Monday warned of another widespread outage.

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". "This is going to be a catastrophic event".

Forecasters said the storm would dump up to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico and whip the United States territory with heavy winds for 12 to 24 hours.

Officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was ready to bring drinking water and help restore power in Puerto Rico immediately after the storm. Schools were canceled for Monday and government employees worked only a half day.

The US territory on Monday imposed rationing of basic supplies including water, milk, baby formula, canned foods, batteries, flashlights, and other items. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.

"Flood prone areas must be abandoned", he said, per ABC News.

This satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows Hurricane Maria on Mon., Sept. 18, 2017.

The eye of that storm was forecast to remain off the east coast of the United States for the next few days, bringing risky surf and rip currents from DE through MA. Even more islands have tropical storm warnings and tropical storm watches.

Forecasters were also tracking Category 1 Hurricane Jose, which packed 75-mph winds and was located about 265 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

Even though the wounds of Irma are still fresh, it's important to remember that a hurricane as strong as Maria is exceedingly rare in the Caribbean.



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