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Tuesday, September 19

Maria now Cat 5. Nature takes command of U.S. news cycle again.

How did that storm grow so fast into a monster? I guess the meteorologists know, but within less than 24 hours Maria went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane and then leapfrogged last night into a Cat 5. [shaking her head]   

See CNN for latest update, filed at 1:12 AM EDT September 19.

Hurricane Maria packs a Category 5 punch toward Dominica
Approx 10:00 PM EDT September 18, 2017
By Holly Yan and Joe Sterling *
CNN via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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.
Track the storm here

Bracing for impact in Dominica

Dominica is a small island with a population of nearly 74,000 about halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, according to the CIA World Factbook. It's nearly 290 square miles (751 square kilometers) and "slightly more than four times the size of Washington DC."
"The Dominican economy has been dependent on agriculture -- primarily bananas -- in years past, but increasingly has been driven by tourism as the government seeks to promote Dominica as an 'ecotourism' destination," the factbook said.
Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica -- and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma -- Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become dangerous projectiles indoors.
"The next few hours should be placed on cleaning up around the house and on your properties rather than stockpiling weeks of foods and other supplies," Skerrit said in a televised speech.
"This is not a system that will linger very long. Therefore, the goal must not be on stockpiling supplies but on mitigating damage caused by flying objects."

Puerto Rico braces

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled Hurricane Irma's wrath in other Caribbean islands. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another catastrophic hurricane.
The governor ordered evacuations ahead of Tuesday's deteriorating conditions.
"We want to alert the people of Puerto Rico that this is not an event like we've ever seen before," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters.
Puerto Rico housing authorities said there are 450 shelters able to take in 62,714 evacuees, and up to 125,428 in an emergency situation. But there are six fewer shelters available post-Irma, since some schools still have no electricity.

"We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, since Tuesday up until late on Thursday. That's about two-and-a-half days of tropical storm winds, and on Wednesday we will feel the brunt -- all of the island will feel the brunt of sustained category four or five winds, Rosselló said.
"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus -- our only focus right now -- should be to make sure we save lives."
Rosselló added that Maria's size means all of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions.
"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."
If Maria strikes the island as forecast, it will be "more dangerous than Hugo and Georges," he said.
Hurricane Hugo killed five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Hurricane Georges caused more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings

The storm will affect parts of the Leeward Islands and the British and US Virgin Islands for next couple of days, the center said.
Other Leeward Islands are now under hurricane warnings, including Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. The US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are under warnings.
Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.
There are tropical storm warnings in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Lucia.
The government of the Dominican Republic has issued a hurricane watch from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata, and a tropical storm watch west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border.
The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by. One military team has been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.
A British military reconaissance team is on standby to go to Montserrat and assess needs, the office said. The HMS Ocean is set to arrive in the area at week's end with 60 tons of government supplies.

Hurricane Jose

Another hurricane, Jose, is also churning in the Atlantic and has spawned tropical storm warnings for part of the US East Coast.
While forecasters don't anticipate Jose making landfall in the US, it's still expected to cause "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.
* CNN's Brandon Miller, Marilia Brocchetto, Judson Jones, Taylor Ward, Deborah Bloom, Leyla Santiago, Michael Holmes, Matt Wotus and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.
Here are my notes from NBC News and Associated Press/CBS News reports-updates, both filed around 5:15 PM EDT 9/18:
  • Maria grew from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours. Now approaching Category 5. 
  • Per National Hurricane Center update approx 5 PM 9/18 Maria an "extremely dangerous" storm with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. It was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica -- or 40 miles east of Martinique -- and heading west-northwest at 9 mph late Monday afternoon.
  • Hurricane warnings posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique and St. Lucia. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla. On Wednesday Maria is expected to be near or over Puerto Rico.
  • Maria's projected path will take it near many of the islands already wrecked/battered by Hurricane Irma.
  • Defensive preparations underway across Caribbean countries. 
  • Puerto Rico has imposed rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula.
  • Puerto Rico as with other islands damaged by Irma is facing double catastrophe. 85 percent of customers in the capital are still without electricity from Irma; 6,000 are still without drinking water.
  • Forecasters said Maria would dump up to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico and whip the U.S. territory with heavy winds for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Puerto Rico hasn't been struck by a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928.
5:11 PM EDT - September 18, 2017
NBC News *
Hurricane Maria was strengthening fast into a monster storm Monday as it barreled toward Puerto Rico and other Irma-battered Caribbean islands.
Maria grew — in less than 24 hours — from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane that the National Hurricane Center called an "extremely dangerous" system.
At 5 p.m. ET it was just 45 miles east-southeast of Dominica, an island of 72,000 people in the Lesser Antilles, and producing maximum sustained winds of 135 mph.
Maria could begin threatening the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening and Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning, said the hurricane center, which issued hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico and its satellite islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Puerto Rico has not been hit by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.

Maria, however, could be "catastrophic" for Puerto Rico, which was largely spared by Hurricane Irma, Karins said. It passed 50 miles north of the island and caused only wave damage, but even that was enough to knock out power to about 1 million people.

"There's an excellent chance that Maria will be a major hurricane very close to Puerto Rico in 48 hours," he said, adding that it could also hit the Irma-devastated U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

"Maria is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, through Wednesday night," the hurricane center warned.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned Sunday the storm could bring more rain, wind and water than Irma, which killed three people there.
Rosselló said 46,000 people — or about 85 percent of customers in the metropolitan area of the capital, San Juan — remained without electricity. Another 6,000 were still without drinking water.
Help is already on the way. A ship from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] was expected to arrive early Tuesday with more than 1 million gallons of water and 111 generators, and the island is ready to house 67,000 people across 450 shelters, Rosselló said.
"The priority is to be prepared and save lives," he said.
[...]
Last updated 5:22 PM EDT 9/18
Associated Press/CBS News
Puerto Rico imposes rationing as Hurricane Maria approaches

MIAMI -- Puerto Rico has imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula as Hurricane Maria approaches as a Category 5 storm.
Officials said Monday that the rationing is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other supplies. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.
Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations.
Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.
Some stores were already imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves, officials said.
[...]
[Puerto Rican Governor] Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people -- or even 125,000 in an emergency. Schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.
*****
* NBC News report filed by RACHEL ELBAUM, DANIELLA SILVA, JASON CUMMING and CORKY SIEMASZKO

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