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Hurricane Maria gains strength on its way to the eastern Dominican Republic

Kevin Loria
Hurricane maria path winds forecast

(National Hurricane Center)

  • Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico Wednesday morning as a powerful Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.
  • Maria hit the island of Dominica at 9:15 p.m. ET on Monday as a Category 5 storm — the first in history there — and reports indicate "widespread devastation."
  • At least ten people have been killed by the storm so far on its journey through the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma.
  • The storm is forecast to lash the Dominican Republic Thursday before targeting the Turks and Caicos and Bahamas Thursday night and Friday.

Hurricane Maria grew stronger again in the warm Caribbean as began to lash the Dominican Republic on Thursday. The storm caused widspread destruction in Puerto Rico and continued to soak that island and the Virgin Islands with enough rain to cause life-threatening flash flooding, according to the National Hurricane Center's 8 a.m. ET update.

Maria has killed at least ten people in the Caribbean so far, according to The Associated Press, but more casualities were expected. The storm pounded Puerto Rico for hours as the third-strongest storm ever to hit the US.

Puerto Rico's mountainous terrain slowed Maria down a bit earlier, but The National Hurricane Center reported in its 8 a.m. ET update Thursday morning that Maria was a Category 3 major hurricane again with sustained winds of 115 mph with higher gusts.

Early reports from Puerto Rico describe intense damage. Cellphone communications failed as towers went down. The Puerto Rican emergency-management agency said 100% of the island was without power by Wednesday afternoon and that Maria had damaged "everything in its path," according to reports.

According to the NHC, the "potentially catastrophic" storm is now headed toward the Dominican Republic, where its center is expected to pass offshore on Thursday. 

Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Turks and Caicos, southeastern Bahamas, and parts of the Dominican Republic. Those locations are likely to see hurricane conditions within the next 36 hours. Hurricane watches — meaning hurricane conditions are possible within the next two days — are in effect in parts of the Dominican Republic.

The NHC said preparations for life-threatening storm surge, rainfall flooding, and destructive winds "should be rushed to completion" in areas not yet hit by the storm.

The NHC has warned that some of the greatest risks Maria poses come from its storm surge, which is accompanied by "large and destructive waves."

Waters were expected to reach 6 to 9 feet above normal levels in Puerto Rico. In the Dominican Republic, a storm surge of 4 to 6 feet is expected, and the southeastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos could see 10- to 15-foot surges above normal tide levels.

It's still too soon to say whether Florida or other parts of the continental US will be in Maria's path after it crosses the Caribbean. For now, at least, it looks as though Maria will turn north before reaching Florida.

hurricane maria puerto rico

(Damage in the Miramar neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, seen from inside the Ciqala hotel.Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Conditions in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Maria caused widespread destruction as it engulfed Puerto Rico, where residents were just starting to recover from Hurricane Irma. The island avoided a direct hit from Irma, but its powerful storm surge and winds still caused many residents to lose power.

Maria's direct hit was devastating.

"The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer here," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told MSNBC on Wednesday night. The mayor said Puerto Rico, home to some 3.5 million people, is "looking at four to six months without electricity."

Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico announced Wednesday afternoon that he was instituting a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

The director of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, said on CNN on Wednesday morning that there were 3,200 agency staff members in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands with supplies, and that they were better prepared in the areas before this storm than they were when Hurricane Irma hit.

Wind sensors in Puerto Rico recorded sustained winds of 81 mph at Yabucoa Harbor and a gust of 118 mph at Camp Santiago at 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday. The tide level at Yabucoa was projected to reach 6 to 9 feet above normal, with large and destructive waves. In the island's capital, San Juan, wind gusts of 113 mph were recorded at 7 a.m.


hurricane maria caribbean

(A man removing a branch in a flooded street in Pointe-a-Pitre, on the island of Guadeloupe, after Hurricane Maria passed through.REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares)

Total rainfall in the Virgin Islands is expected to be between 8 and 12 inches, with isolated areas receiving 16 inches. The NHC said Puerto Rico was still experiencing mudslides and "catastrophic" flash flooding from rainfall on Wednesday evening. Some parts of the island are expected to have received a total of 35 inches of rain by the time the storm leaves the region.

Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency on Monday, activating the National Guard to help the island prepare.

The public safety commissioner of Puerto Rico told those in evacuation zones: "You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you're going to die."

'Take this event seriously'

Maria first made landfall on the island of Dominica on Monday night. Although the destruction is still being assessed, Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, wrote on his Facebook page: "Initial reports are of widespread devastation ... The winds have swept away the roofs of almost every person I have spoken to or otherwise made contact with."

This was the first Category 5 storm in recorded history to hit Dominica, which is home to roughly 70,000 people. The last and only Category 4 storm to directly hit the island nation, Hurricane David in 1979, killed more than 50 people and left 60,000 homeless.

"The roof to my own official residence was among the first to go and this apparently triggered an avalanche of torn away roofs in the city and the countryside," Skerrit wrote on Facebook.

The bands of the storm also slammed the nearby island of Guadeloupe, causing serious flooding, damage to buildings, and widespread power losses.

hurricane maria puerto rico

(Felled trees cover the roads in San Juan.Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Maria lost some strength as its eye moved over Dominica but quickly regained its Category 5 status Tuesday morning and got even stronger in the afternoon.

On the islands of St. Thomas and St. John, residents were urged to leave their homes for government shelters, since Irma damaged many houses. President Donald Trump also approved an emergency declaration for the Virgin Islands on Monday, giving FEMA the go-ahead to coordinate disaster relief efforts there. Some of the soldiers who came to the Virgin Islands to provide relief after Irma were evacuated.

"Take this event seriously," Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the US Virgin Islands said at a press conference Sunday. "You cannot stay in those facilities. You will not survive."

He urged people who decided to stay in their homes to write their Social Security numbers on their bodies so they could be identified easily in a worst-case scenario.

St. Croix, the most populated of the US Virgin Islands, took a hit from the outer eyewall, to the right of Maria's eye. According to reports, vegetation was stripped bare by the storm, wind measurement equipment failed, and many were left without power.

Hurricane Maria cone

(National Hurricane Center)

An unusually active hurricane season

Maria is the seventh hurricane of an unusually active Atlantic hurricane season, making this only the ninth year on record with seven hurricanes by September 17. There have been 13 named storms so far — the average by September 18 is 7.6.

This season is also significantly ahead of the average measures for major hurricane days and accumulated cyclone energy (a measure of storm strength, duration, and frequency). Maria is pushing those measures even further ahead.

Army personnel evacuate the Virgin Islands in advance of Hurricane Maria

(Army personnel evacuating the Virgin Islands ahead of Hurricane Maria.REUTERS/Jonathan Drake)

On September 15, Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project issued a two-week forecast of above-normal cyclone activity for the Atlantic basin.

Tropical Storm Jose is still moving up the East Coast but is likely to stay offshore. The storm is nonetheless bringing tropical storm conditions — including winds, rainfall, and dangerous surf — to coastal and Mid-Atlantic areas.

Erin Brodwin, Rebecca Harrington, and Bryan Logan contributed to this post.

NOW WATCH: Hurricane Maria slams Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds — here are the latest updates on the storm

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