The hard-hit Caribbean islands are still reeling from the devastating aftermath from Hurricane Harvey and Irma, the latter of which slammed the Florida coast, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba, St. John, and Barbuda in early September. Now, the latest update about Hurricane Maria has upgraded the the hurricane to Category 4 storm and is taking aim at Puerto Rico, which managed to narrowly escape the worst of Irma's impact.
Hurricane Maria doubled in strength Monday afternoon and will continue to intensify, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph as it closes in on the Caribbean. Following in a similar trajectory as Hurricane Irma, Maria will keep growing in force before first making landfall in the Leeward Islands of Dominica and Martinique on Monday at 8 P.M. ET. The worst part of the storm is likely to impact Barbuda and Antigua, and by Tuesday, Maria is expected to pass over St. Croix.
Currently, Maria is located about 35 miles east of Martinique and is expected to bring storm surges (seawater driven to the shore by strong winds) of 6 to 9 feet. Central and southern Leeward Islands could see as much as 20 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.
By the time Maria reaches Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the storm will be the first Category 4 hurricane to ravage the island in 85 years. Puerto Rico has only seen one Category 5 hurricane in all its of recorded history, and the last Category 4 hurricane hit the island in 1932.
Although Puerto Rico escaped the brunt of Irma's impact, the storm still left 70,000 people without power, and the island is preparing for more outages in the wake of Maria. Evacuation orders have already been issued in four parts of Puerto Rico. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has said that the island could receive between 12 and 18 inches of rain, according to CNN.
Around 450 shelters will be opened starting on Monday afternoon in order to brace for the possibility of the "vulnerable" electrical system, flash flooding, and mudslides, according to officials. Construction cranes have been dismantled in order to prepare for the high winds.
"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," Rosselló told reporters on Monday.
The storm could be particularly devastating for the Virgin Island residents who evacuated to Puerto Rico to flee from Hurricane Irma, and will now have to prepare for another potentially catastrophic storm. 1,200 citizens fled from Saint Martin and Saint Thomas to Puerto Rico and more than 50 patients have been airlifted to Puerto Rican hospitals, according to The New York Times.
On Sept. 8, Hurricane Jose brought catastrophic winds to an already ravaged Barbuda but was recently downgraded to a tropical storm. The storm is still sitting in the Atlantic and will likely behave more like a strong nor'easter, impacting the coast of the Northeast this weekend. The worst of the storm will most likely affect eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. By Wednesday, coastal New England is expected to see heavy rain and tropic storm-force winds.
Although Maria is not expected to directly affect Florida, the state is keeping a very close eye on the storm because Maria is expected to reach the Bahamas by Friday, putting it close to Florida's eastern coast, according to USA Today.
Hurricane warnings are in effect for the British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique, St. Lucia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.