Friday 27 April 2018

Rapidly-strengthening Hurricane Maria rages through eastern Caribbean

  • Hurricane Maria is already classified as a Category 3 Hurricane
  • Hurricane expected to strengthen in coming days
  • Threatens region with its second major storm this month
  • Hurricane barrelling with 125 mile-per-hour (200 kph) winds
A soldier from the Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company rests on a limb of a tree damaged by Hurricane Irma as her unit waits for transport on a Navy landing craft while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
A soldier from the Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company rests on a limb of a tree damaged by Hurricane Irma as her unit waits for transport on a Navy landing craft while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Army soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company wait with their belongings on a beach for transport on a Navy landing craft while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
A soldier from the Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company rests on vegetation damaged by Hurricane Irma as his unit waits for transport on a Navy landing craft while evacuating in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Army Specialist Cerelai Spencer of Spring Lake, North Carolina, carries the 602nd Area Support Medical Company flag REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army soldiers board a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Soldiers from the Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company share a light for a cigarette while waiting for transport on a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army soldiers peer at the U.S.S. Kearsarge aircraft carrier as they approach it aboard a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and other Army personnel board a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
The deck of a U.S. Navy landing craft is crowded with Army soldiers and their belongings as they are evacuated in advance of Hurricane Maria, off St. Thomas shore, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Soldiers from the 602nd Area Support Medical Company and other Army personnel board a Navy landing craft during their evacuation in advance of Hurricane Maria, in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
The Army's 602nd Area Support Medical Company boards the U.S.S. Kearsarge aircraft carrier from a Navy landing craft during their evacuation from the U.S. Virgin Islands in advance of Hurricane Maria September 17, 2017. Picture taken September 17, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Robert Edison Sandiford

A rapidly strengthening Hurricane Maria barreled towards the eastern Caribbean islands with 125 mile-per-hour (200 kph) winds on Monday, threatening the region with its second major storm this month.

Officials from French-controlled Martinique to the U.S. Virgin Islands warned residents to prepare for the storm, now ranked by U.S. forecasters as a major hurricane, at Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

Maria was located about 45 miles (70 km) east of Martinique, headed west-northwest on a track that would put it over the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico by Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) advisory. The hurricane was expected to continue to strengthen during the coming two days, the center said.

Residents of some islands fled ahead of the storm.

Beth Tamplin Jones, 45, rode out Hurricane Irma earlier this month in the pantry of a friend's house on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"It was so intense," said Jones, who evacuated from St. John to Puerto Rico last week and then got a flight to Atlanta, where she planned to remain until Maria passed.

"We're in hurricane alley, so we've had other storms, but nothing like this," Jones said, referring to Irma, which was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded and which killed more than 80 people on Caribbean islands and the U.S. mainland. "I don't think anybody's ever been hit by a storm like that. To see another one coming is just so discouraging."

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp warned residents not to underestimate the threat from Maria, or its potential to change track. "Just remember this is a live animal," he said.

The island of St. Croix looked to face hurricane force winds with nearby St. Thomas and St. John seeing tropical storm force winds, Mapp said, adding, "given the current conditions of St. Thomas and St. John, that's not good."

Maria was expected to whip up storm surges - seawater driven ashore by wind - of up to 9 feet (2.7 m), the NHC said. Parts of Puerto Rico could see up to 25 inches (64 cm) of rain, it said.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for a string of islands in the area, including the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda and the French-Dutch island of Saint Martin.

Several of those islands were devastated earlier this month when Irma rampaged through the Caribbean.

French weather service Meteo France issued a red alert for Martinique. Businesses were ordered to shut down, public transport services were suspended and residents were told to take shelter in their houses.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory which Irma grazed as it headed toward Cuba and Florida, opened shelters and began to dismantle construction cranes that could be vulnerable to Maria's high winds.

More than 1,700 residents of Barbuda were evacuated to neighboring Antigua after Irma damaged nearly every building there.

Streets were flooded in some residential parts of the island of Barbados, doused with heavy rain since Sunday as the storm passed to the north of the island.

"We're not really taking it serious for some of the warnings we get," said Felicia Waith, a 42-year-old customer service representative at a shipping company in Barbados. "Customers are still coming in. The rain stops, (it's) business as usual."

Forecasters were also tracking Category 1 Hurricane Jose, which was carrying 75-mph (120-kph) winds and was located about 265 miles (430 km) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Jose's center was forecast to remain off the east coast of the United States for the next few days, bringing dangerous surf and rip currents from Delaware through Massachusetts.

Reuters

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