Hurricane Maria, which is forecasted to slam into Puerto Rico and neighboring islands within hours, has officially strengthened into a Category 3 storm. This means that within the past 24 hours, it has doubled in strength and sustained winds of 120 mph. In preparation for the storm, Puerto Rico’s government has declared a “state of emergency” and is calling for citizens and to evacuate to safer locations. The hurricane is only expected to strengthen up to 150 mph until it makes landfall.
CNN reports that as of 11 a.m. ET, the hurricane was approximately 60 miles east of Martinique. Maria is expected to make landfall at about 8 p.m. ET in the northeast Caribbean Leeward Islands — particularly St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, and Martinique. This is the first time in 85 years Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from a Category 4 hurricane. As a result, the country’s government has declared a “state of emergency” and governor Ricardo Rosselló has ordered evacuations.
Said Rosselló, “Our call is for people to evacuate areas that are prone to floods and landslides, in addition to vulnerable structures. 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.”
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has warned, “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.” Some areas are expected to receive up to 20 inches of rain, others approximately 12 inches. “Rainfall on all of these islands could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” said the NHC.
Puerto Rico was the haven thousands fled to in preparation for Hurricane Irma. Now, those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are preparing to be slammed by another devastating storm. If Maria is as damaging as forecasted, it will be “more dangerous than Hugo and Georges.” Hurricane Hugo took the lives of five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Hurricane Georges went down in the textbooks for causing more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.