Hurricane Maria bore down on Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 storm early Wednesday, bringing heavy rain and winds of up to 155 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.
At 5 a.m., the center said Maria was expected to make landfall “in a couple of hours” after crossing the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm. It had weakened slightly but remained “extremely dangerous,” the center said.
The storm has brought new misery to a region that has seen two other powerful hurricanes in recent weeks. Residents of the United States Virgin Islands whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Irma two weeks ago were urged by the government to find new shelters to ride out Maria.
The storm began pounding the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening, and a flash-flood alert was sent to residents’ cellphones at 10:05 p.m., Gov. Kenneth Mapp said. He warned that hurricane-strength winds were likely to batter the islands until Wednesday morning.
The core of the storm passed south of the United States Virgin Islands, with the outer eyewall lashing St. Croix, the hurricane center said.
Maria had battered the island nation of Dominica a day earlier. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit described the damage as “mind boggling” and wrote on Facebook that he had to be rescued after winds ripped the roof off his official residence. But little information has emerged since then, with the storm having taken out phone and power lines on Dominica.
Though the storm’s maximum sustained winds dropped somewhat overnight, the authorities warned early Wednesday that it was still “potentially catastrophic,” bearing “fury aimed at Puerto Rico and Vieques,” a southeastern Puerto Rican island.
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