Maria regains its major hurricane status

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The Latest on tropical weather (all times local):

The Latest on Hurricane Maria (all times local):

2 a.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center reports Maria has regained its major hurricane status, rising to a Category 3 storm early Thursday.

An update from the Miami-based center says maximum sustained winds have increased to near 115 mph with higher gusts.

Maria's fierce core was centered about 55 miles northeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It will continue to move away from Puerto Rico during the next several hours, and then pass offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic early Thursday. Maria should then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas tonight and Friday.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria hit. Trump's action early Thursday makes federal funding available to people on the island of St. Croix.

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5 p.m.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, dropping to a Category 2 storm after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday.

An update from the Miami-based center says a hurricane hunter plane clocked the top sustained winds of the storm at near 110 mph (175 kph) with higher gusts about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Maria's fierce core was centered about 25 miles (45 kilometers) north-northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Forecasters say the dangerous storm system will continue moving away from the northwest coast of Puerto Rico in coming hours. It's then expected to pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominical Republic this evening and early Thursday.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Jose is still kicking up dangerous surf and currents along much of the U.S. Eastern seaboard. The storm's center was located at 5 p.m. Wednesday about 145 miles (235 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts and had top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). It's moving northeast at 8 mph (13 kph).

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4:30 p.m.

The head of the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency says the airport and seaports of Dominica remain closed after Hurricane Maria and officials are trying to work out the best ways to get relief supplies to the battered island.

Director General Ronald Jackson says in a radio interview that authorities are using helicopters to carry emergency food, water and shelter materials to Dominica. He added in the interview with RJR News of Jamaica that once the airport opens it will allow them to greatly expand the effort on an island where officials say the storm caused at least 7 deaths.

He also said Wednesday that relief agencies may have to drop people into remote communities with satellite phones because many areas are both inaccessible and there is little to no communication on the island.

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2:45 p.m.

An official at the U.S. Virgin Islands Emergency Operations Center says there are no immediate reports of deaths or injuries on St. Croix from Hurricane Maria but a full assessment hasn't been completed. Spokeswoman Nykole Tyson says the storm tore many roofs off of buildings and downed trees across the island.

Winds were still strong Wednesday more than five hours after the eye passed close to the island, making it too dangerous for people to venture out and conduct a thorough check.

Some people were trapped in their bathrooms or fled to their cars after losing the roof on their home. Tyson says the Department of Public Health building where she spent the night shook during the storm, which she called "frightening."

It comes after St. Thomas and St. John are still reeling from being hit by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6.

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2:30 p.m.

About 4,000 tourists in the Bavara-Punta Cana area on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic have been moved to hotels in Santo Domingo because of Hurricane Maria.

Hotel Association President Joel Santos said the tourists were evacuated from the beach resort because of the threat posed by the powerful storm.

Maria was already triggering thunderstorms Wednesday and was expected to pass about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the area.

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2 p.m.

Maria has weakened slightly to a Category 3 major hurricane after crashing across Puerto Rico and its center is now moving offshore of the island's northwest coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm is slowly starting to move away from Puerto Rico with maximum sustained winds near 115 mph (185 kph). Little change in strength is forecast over the next 48 hours.

The Miami-based center says Maria was centered at 2 p.m. Wednesday about 15 miles (20 kilometers) west of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. It's moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). It's expected to pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic late Wednesday and Thursday.

In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Jose's outer rainbands are approaching southern New England's coast. The hurricane center says dangerous surf and rip currents will affect much of the U.S. East Coast for days. Jose, a former hurricane, was about 140 miles (230 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts with top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph).

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12:40 p.m.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the city of Catano on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, told WAPA Television that 80 percent of the homes in a hard-hit neighborhood known as Juana Matos are "destroyed."

There were no immediate details from Delgado. That report came after forecasters said Hurricane Maria was approaching the northern coast with destructive winds after raking over the island.

Maria, which left at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph (250 kph). Maria slowly crossed the island, knocking down communication towers, snapping trees and unloading heavy rains. Widespread flooding was reported across the island, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighborhoods and many streets turned into rivers.

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11 a.m.

Hurricane Maria is now approaching the northern coast of Puerto Rico as destructive winds and flooding are continuing.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says the eye of the Category 4 major hurricane is now located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of San Juan, the capital. Maximum sustained winds are 140 mph (220 kph) and the storm is moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

The Miami-based hurricane center says little change in strength is expected in the coming 48 hours as Maria remains a dangerous major hurricane. It says tropical storm conditions are expected to begin in the Dominican Republica this afternoon with hurricane conditions starting there later Wednesday night. Forecasters say the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas will see worsening conditions Thursday morning with the expected arrival of hurricane winds Thursday evening.

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7:55 a.m.

An adviser to Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says there have been seven confirmed deaths in the Caribbean country from Hurricane Maria.

Hartley Henry didn't give details about how the deaths occurred. They raise the overall death toll to nine from the storm including two on the French island of Guadeloupe.

Henry says the country is "in a daze" with no electricity or power and little to no communications.

He said in a statement Wednesday that there has been a "tremendous loss of housing and public buildings" in the mountainous island but the full extent of the damage isn't known. The storm struck the country Monday and Tuesday and is now over Puerto Rico.

7:55 a.m.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third strongest storm to make landfall in the United States based on a key measurement meteorologists use: air pressure.

The lower the central pressure a storm has, the stronger it is and Maria's pressure was 917 millibars. That's lower than Irma's U.S. landfall of 929 millibars in the Florida Keys earlier this year, as well 2005's Hurricane Katrina landfall of 920, which had been in third place.

Only two hurricanes hit the United States, U.S. islands or Hawaii with a stronger pressure: the 1935 Labor Day storm that hit the Florida Keys and 1969's Camille that devastated the Gulf Coast.

7:20 a.m.

Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as Maria approached Puerto Rico before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance.

Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building's second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM. The storm was moving across Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning at 10 mph (17 kph), with a gust of 113 mph (182 kph) reported in the capital of San Juan, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph (257 kph).

7 a.m.

"Extremely dangerous" Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Wednesday morning and is expected to punish the U.S. territory with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters say.

Maria weakened slightly to a Category 4 hurricane overnight Wednesday before making landfall at Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

It moved quickly: As of 5 a.m. EDT, the storm was some 15 miles south-southwest of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and about 50 miles southeast of San Juan. At one point, Maria had top sustained winds of 175 mph and was a Category 5 storm.

On the forecast track, Maria's eye will "cross Puerto Rico today, and pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday," the center said.

Maria's outer eyewall lashed the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix early Wednesday.

7 p.m.

Category 5 Hurricane Maria's maximum sustained winds have increased to 175 mph (280 kph).

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter plane took the reading Tuesday evening as the storm was about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix.

Maria is moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph), and is expected to pass near the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday night and hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

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5 p.m.

An even stronger Hurricane Maria is moving steadily toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and is likely to still be a powerful category 5 storm when it arrives.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported that Maria's winds had intensified to 165 mph (265 kph) late Tuesday afternoon, and that some additional strengthening was possible Tuesday evening.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Maria was centered about 175 miles (280 kilometers) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was moving west-northwest at 10 mph (16 kph).

A hurricane warning was in effect for Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat and portions of the Dominican Republic.

Hurricane center forecasters say it "now appears likely" that Maria will still be at category 5 intensity when it moves over the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The center of the hurricane was forecast to move near or over the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Croix and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday, bringing with it "life-threatening" flooding from rain and storm surge.

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4:30 p.m.

France's interior minister has made an initial damage assessment after Hurricane Maria passed over two French Caribbean islands and says at least 150,000 homes are without electricity.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said in Paris on Tuesday that the hurricane left 80,000 households in Guadeloupe and 70,000 in Martinique without power.

Collomb warned that Maria still was passing through St. Martin and St. Barts islands, French territories that suffered extreme damage from Hurricane Irma.

The extent of the damage from Tuesday's hurricane is yet to be assessed on those islands and in Guadeloupe. Collomb says Martinique's airport is still operating.

The Guadeloupe prefecture said earlier that one person died and two others were missing there. Collomb said there were three people wounded in Martinique, including one seriously.

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3:50 p.m.

Potentially catastrophic Category 5 Hurricane Maria is lashing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with rain.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the powerful storm was located about 195 miles (315 kms) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, at 3 p.m. Monday. It had maximum sustained winds of 165 mph (265 kmh) and was moving 10 mph (17 kmh).

The center said the hurricane was expected to remain an "extremely dangerous" category 4 or 5 hurricane when it passes near or over the Virgin Islands overnight, and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

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3:30 p.m.

An official from the Caribbean island of Dominica says officials have been told that extremely powerful Hurricane Maria tore the roofs off 70 percent of the island's homes and that there have been unconfirmed reports of deaths.

Consul General Barbara Dailey told The Associated Press in a phone interview from New York that officials have not been able to reach anyone on the island since 4 a.m. Tuesday and that they are extremely concerned.

Maria swept over the island overnight as a Category 5 storm, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Dailey noted that her house on the island lost its roof, as did the official residence of the prime minister, Roosevelt Skeritt.

She says Dominica will be in desperate need of aid and emergency supplies in the coming days.

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1 p.m.

Officials say one person has died on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe after being hit by a falling tree.

It's the first death attributed to Category 5 Hurricane Maria.

Authorities say the person did not comply with orders to remain indoors on Tuesday morning. They say two other people are reported missing after their boat sank off La Desirade island, just east of Guadeloupe.

About 40 percent of the island is without power. That's 80,000 homes. Flooding has been reported in several communities, especially along the southern coast.

Officials say Les Saintes, Marie-Galant, Petit-Bourg and La Desirade have been the hardest hit. Roads are littered with fallen branches and trees but only limited infrastructure damage has been reported.

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12:30 p.m.

A company that tracks the status of the internet around the world says most of Dominica's internet service appears to be down in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Akamai Technologies says it sees small spikes of activity, but far less than normal on Tuesday.

The company says it's possible that the island's electrical system is down.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was posting on Facebook after the Category 5 storm hit overnight, but his posts ceased hours ago and many report difficulties reaching people on the island by telephone.

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11:55 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says his state's citizens should carefully monitor Hurricane Maria.

The Category 5 storm is forecast to veer out into the Atlantic and miss the state. But Scott reminded people on Tuesday that Hurricane Irma's Irma's path shifted as it approached the U.S. and it wound up causing devastation.

Scott encouraged people to restock their hurricane kits, buy water and have an evacuation plan.

He said that about 2 percent of the state's electric customers are still without power due to Irma.

His comments came as he thanked first responders during an event in Tampa.

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11:15 a.m.

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp says that the track of Hurricane Maria has shifted and the eye is now expected to pass over the southwestern tip of St. Croix.

That means parts of the island are expected to experience the full force of the storm winds that have now reached 160 mph (260 kph). Conditions are expected to deteriorate tonight with the approach of the "extremely, extremely dangerous hurricane."

The Virgin Islands are already reeling from Hurricane Irma, which passed over the islands of St. Thomas and St. John.

Mapp warned Tuesday that Maria is expected to bring up to 12 inches of rain to St. John.

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11 a.m.

Forecasters say potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria is continuing on its course toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. that the extremely dangerous Category 5 storm is forecast to hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

The top sustained winds of the storm are near 160 mph (260 kph) and the Miami-based center says some fluctuations in intensity are likely over the coming days.

The eye of Maria was about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of Guadeloupe or about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix. It was moving to the west-northwest at 10 mph (16 kph).

Meanwhile, Jose remained a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic as it whipped up dangerous surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast. It was about 335 miles (539 kilometers) south-southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and had top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

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11 a.m.

Family and friends of people studying at Ross University School of Medicine in Dominica are anxiously trying to find news of their loved ones following the passage of Hurricane Maria.

The school says there is widespread loss of communication on the island.

Many messages posted on Facebook by friends and family say they have been unable to talk to students since late Monday evening as the storm approached.

One woman says her husband spoke to their daughter at 6 p.m. as the storm was in full force. She wrote that her daughter was "very scared but safe with friends." But she has not heard from her since.

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10:30 a.m.

Coastal flooding from Hurricane Jose has prompted North Carolina to close parts of the main highway on the Outer Banks.

The state transportation department says that parts of N.C. Highway 12 were closed by flooding Tuesday morning.

The agency says the road north of the Pea Island Visitors Center was temporarily closed until the tide subsides.

The ocean was washing over areas south of the Bonner Bridge to Cape Hatteras.

The department also said Monday that ocean overwash was occurring at Pea Island, Rodanthe, Avon and Hatteras village on Hatteras Island.

A coastal flood warning was issued for Dare County on the Outer Banks through Tuesday night. Rip current warnings were posted from north of Wilmington to the Virginia state line.

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9:10 a.m.

About 25,000 households lost electricity and two small towns are without potable water after Hurricane Maria roared past the French island of Martinique, damage considered minimal.

The head of French civil security, Jacques Witkowski, told reporters in Paris on Tuesday that it was too soon to say whether the French department of Guadaloupe was so lucky. Communications there have been difficult. He says two people suffered minor injuries.

The prefect, or highest French official, of Guadaloupe, Eric Maire, said in a video via Twitter that some roads and homes were flooded and heavy rain is expected to continue. He told island residents to "remain inside" amid the flood threat and warnings by forecasters of possible landslides.

France is upping its manpower in the region, with two flights taking off on Tuesday, the first carrying 160 firefighters and military personnel to Martinique.

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8:35 a.m.

New York state officials have deployed members of the National Guard and specialized emergency response units to Long Island to prepare for potentially severe weather caused by Hurricane Jose.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says 100 members of the National Guard, 13 members of an urban search and rescue team, and 20 high-axle vehicles will set up a command post at a welcome center on the Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills in Suffolk County. That coastal county is under a tropical storm watch.

The Democratic governor says the facility will be open to members of the public seeking shelter during severe weather.

Cuomo organized a storm briefing at the welcome center Tuesday morning. Hurricane Jose, though still far out in the Atlantic, is producing rough surf along the East Coast.

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8 a.m.

Forecasters say potentially catastrophic Hurricane Maria is heading toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. that the extremely dangerous Category 5 storm is on a forecast track approaching the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico between Tuesday night and Wednesday.

The top sustained winds of the storm are near 160 mph (260 kph) and the Miami-based center says some fluctuations in intensity are likely over the coming days. At 8 a.m., the eye of Maria was about 85 miles (135 kilometers) west of Guadeloupe or about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix. The major hurricane is moving to the west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Meanwhile, Jose remained a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic as it churned up dangerous surf and rip currents along the U.S. East Coast. It was about 350 miles (560 kilometers south-southwest of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and had top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

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7 a.m.

The surf remains rough along the New Jersey shore and there's a chance for some coastal flooding because of Jose. But the strong winds associated with the hurricane are well off the coast.

A high surf advisory remains in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday and a coastal flood warning is posted until 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Wave heights off the coast could build to 15 feet (4.5 meters), while breaking waves along the coast are expected to reach 8 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters). A high risk for rip currents continues.

Minor flooding is expected during the morning high tide and moderate flooding is anticipated during the evening. Widespread roadway flooding is expected and minor property damage is possible.

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6:15 a.m.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skeritt says there are initial reports of "widespread devastation" in the small island from Hurricane Marie.

The prime minister says he will be going around the country to see what has happened and what is needed as soon as the all-clear sign is given. But that his "greatest fear" is that the people of Dominica will wake to news of "serious physical injury and possible deaths."

He made the statement in a post on his Facebook page while the storm was still raging.

At one point, he lost the roof to his own official residence. He also said that the winds have swept away the roofs of many other people. He says his initial focus will be to rescue trapped people and secure medical aid for the injured.

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5:10 a.m.

Hurricane Maria has regained Category 5 strength, upping its top wind speeds after it had briefly dropped to a Category 4 storm overnight near the island of Dominica.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says a hurricane hunter plane checking on Maria after it pounded that small Caribbean island says the storm strengthened anew early Tuesday and again has top sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph). The storm was located early Tuesday about 65 miles (100 kilometers) west-southwest of another Caribbean island, Guadeloupe. It's moving to the west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Forecasters say a Category 5 hurricane is a major and extremely dangerous storm capable of catastrophic winds. They add that fluctuations in intensity were expected and that further strengthening is possible as the storm moves over warm Carinbbean waters in coming hours and days.

Elsewhere, in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose is producing dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the United States. Forecasters say that storm is centered about 240 miles (390 kilometers) east-northeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina - or about 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts. It's moving to the north at 9 mph (15 kph) with top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

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2:45 a.m.

Hurricane Maria, after pounding Dominica with high winds, has weakened slightly to a still extremely dangerous Category 4 major storm.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Tuesday that top sustained winds had fallen slightly to 155 mph (250 kph). It says high winds are now beginning to diminish over Dominica and that the eye of Maria is now about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west-northwest of that small Caribbean island. The storm is moving west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph) on a course that threatens other areas of the Caribbean including Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose continues to move north over the Atlantic, churning up dangerous surf and rip currents along the East Coast of the United States. That storm was located at 2 a.m. about 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

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12:10 a.m.

Hurricane Maria swept over the small island of Dominica with catastrophic winds overnight, starting a charge into the eastern Caribbean that threatens islands already devastated by Hurricane Irma and holds the possibility of a direct hit on Puerto Rico.

Fierce winds and driving rain lashed mountainous Dominica for hours, causing flooding and tearing roofs from homes. A police official on the island, Inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said late Monday that there were no immediate reports of casualties but it was still too dangerous for officers to do a full assessment as the storm raged outside.

"Where we are, we can't move," he said in a brief phone interview while hunkered down against the region's second Category 5 hurricane this month.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



 
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