Hurricane Maria Strengthens to a Category 5

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PUERTO RICO — A “potentially catastrophic” Hurricane Maria is now a Category 5 storm, packing 160 miles per hour winds — with even higher gusts — as it nears Dominica and takes aim at the US territory of Puerto Rico.

“The extremely dangerous core of Maria is expected to pass over Dominica within the next hour or two,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET advisory. “Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island.”

A US Air Force Reserve C-130 Hurricane Hunter data measured the intense storm, which heightens the chance of life-threatening storm surge and “hitting the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.”

For the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from such a strong hurricane. Puerto Rico’s governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

The hurricane center statement said Maria was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica and 40 miles and 70 kilometers north of Martinique. The mammoth storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph.

President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico for federal assistance to augment the territory’s storm-response initiatives.

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