NHC says Maria potentially catastrophic as it tears through Caribbean

Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Hurricane Maria left widespread damage Tuesday in the eastern Caribbean as it continued steaming toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm.

In its 11 a.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm was 115 miles west of Guadalupe and 150 miles southeast of St. Croix. Maximum sustained winds were recorded at 160 mph, with higher gusts.

Maria was moving west-northwest at a speed of 10 mph -- a direction which is expected to continue through Wednesday.

The NHC called the storm "potentially catastrophic" -- barely a week after Hurricane Irma tore through the same region.

"The eye of Maria will move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea [Tuesday], and then pass near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday" forecasters said. "Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico."

The NHC said the "western portion of the ridge is forecast to weaken, partially due to the influence of the large circulation of Hurricane Jose off the U.S. East Coast."

A hurricane warning is in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra. Hurricane watches have been issued for Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, Anguilla and from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.

There is a tropical storm warning for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla, and a tropical storm watch for west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border.

Rain accumulations of 10 to 15 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches, are forecast across the Leeward Islands and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands through Thursday. In Puerto Rico, 12 to 18 inches and isolated 25 inches are expected.

Rainfall on many of the islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said.
UPI Staff

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