Published: Mon, September 18, 2017
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Hurricane Maria reaches Category 3, could strengthen before landfall

Hurricane Maria reaches Category 3, could strengthen before landfall

This Sept. 14, 2017 photo provided by Guillermo Houwer on Saturday, Sept. 16, shows storm damage to Maho Bay in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands.

Maria is now moving west-northwest at 10 miles per hour and will roar through the Leeward Islands this afternoon bringing catastrophic damage to those islands near the center of the storm. Eastern time on Monday.

Maria is one of three storms churning in the Atlantic Ocean, but it poses the most danger to the hurricane-battered Caribbean. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for Antigua and Barbuda and the Dutch Caribbean territories of Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten, while Puerto Rico, the British and U.S. Virgin islands, and Anguilla were on a watch for hurricane conditions.

Maria's first landfall is expected around 8 p.m. ET in the northeast Caribbean's Leeward Islands - specifically Dominica and Guadeloupe. Strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a hurricane later today or tonight.

Some of the islands devastated by Hurricane Irma earlier this month have issued watches for Maria. Its impact is also likely to be exacerbated by the fact that many islands in the storm's path have barely begun to recover from Irma.

Maria could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma although much of the island had its power knocked out.

As the system draws closer to the region, feeder bands will generate pockets of moderate to heavy showers and thunderstorms, some of which have already started to spread across the island. "St. Martin will be reborn, I promise", said Macron. As for the European and United States models, last night Morales said just 10 percent of those 70 ensemble runs take the storm into Florida. After that, models are indicating that the high pressure system steering Maria will weaken and cause a turn to the north into the Atlantic before reaching the Bahamas or USA mainland.

Maria doesn't have the historic size and strength of Irma, and its hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 15 miles - far short of the 70 miles such winds extended from Irma's center. It is moving west-northwest at 13 miles per hour (20 kph).

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.

Numerous islands in its predicted path, including the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis and Anguilla are still recovering after being battered by one of the strongest hurricanes in recorded history.

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