In what seems to be an endless procession of major hurricanes this summer, Hurricane Maria strengthened overnight to a Category 3 storm and is expected to strengthen further as it makes its way straight toward Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Maria’s winds are howling at a maximum speed of 120 mph, with even higher gusts. It is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane by the time it makes landfall at Puerto Rico Wednesday morning.
Puerto Rico’s governor declared a State of Emergency and ordered evacuations ahead of the rapidly worsening conditions, even as the island’s residents continue reeling from the damage of Hurricane Irma only one week before.
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Irma left large swaths of the country without power and caused severe damage to coastal areas — and that was with only a glancing blow from Irma’s full force.
Now Maria looks to strike the island dead-on.
“Our call is for people to evacuate areas that are prone to floods and landslides, in addition to vulnerable structures,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said. “It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour.”
The National Hurricane Center warned that Maria will likely affect Puerto Rico as an “extremely dangerous hurricane,” and “life-threatening” floods, mudslides, and storm surges should be expected for the Leeward Islands and U.S. and British Virgin Islands shortly.
Extended predictions are shaky. Maria should strike Puerto Rico Wednesday morning and then move slightly northwest to glance the Dominican Republic before moving toward the Bahamas. At that point, it could follow Jose out to sea or take a more dangerous path toward the U.S.
Forecasters say it is too early to tell.
“We may luck out and it turns north,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel in an interview with USA Today. “Unfortunately it looks like a blocking high-pressure system could force it into Florida.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE