As of 8 a.m. Monday morning, Hurricane Maria, currently spinning in the Atlantic, has become a category 3 storm and is forecast to hit the Leeward Islands later today, and later this week Puerto Rico.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm strengthened early Monday morning with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and could reach upwards of 140 mph within the next two days.
A hurricane warning has been issued for the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Martinique, and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands.
Forecasters predict that unlike Irma, Maria will have a sharper northwest trajectory, passing through the center of Puerto Rico by Wednesday then east of the Turks and Caicos islands.
Areas of the Caribbean still recovering from the devastation wrought by Irma, including the Virgin Islands, remain at risk.
Puerto Rico is bracing for the storm.
“The government is prepared,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in a Facebook post, “and we ask of citizens preparation, attention, and action.”
While Maria pales in comparison to the size and strength of Irma, the potential for storm surge and heavy rains is not to be taken lightly.
“A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 5 to 7 feet above normal tide levels near where the center of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands,” said the National Hurricane Center. The Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US and British Virgin Islands can expect as much as 12 to 20 inches of rain from the storm. “Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” said the NHC.
According to CNN, Puerto Rico has already called for evacuations in particularly vulnerable areas.
“Our call is for people to evacuate areas that are prone to floods and landslides, in addition to vulnerable structures,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said. “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.”