made landfall in Puerto Rico early Wednesday as a powerful Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph, and it was expected to punish the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours, forecasters said.
The storm weakened by Wednesday evening to a Category 2, but officials there predict entire towns will have to be rebuilt.
Overnight, it pounded St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph.
Follow along below for live updates on the storm. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted.
10 p.m.: Coastal city sees hundreds of homes destroyed in Puerto Rico
Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 percent of the 454 homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. The fishing community near San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.
“Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this,” he said.
8:40 p.m.: Officials say tourists should delay visit to Caribbean territory
The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism says people who want to visit the Caribbean territory should postpone their trip while authorities assess the effects of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix and recover from the damage to St. Thomas and St. John from Hurricane Irma.
The department says Hurricane Maria brought heavy rainfall and flooding to St. Croix when it passed to the south of the island and communications throughout the islands are limited.
There were no immediate reports Wednesday of any casualties from the storm on St. Croix.
8 p.m.: Hurricane Maria’s core gradually moves away from Puerto Rico
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) released its 8 p.m. advisory to say that the core of dangerous Hurricane Maria is gradually moving away from Puerto Rico; conditions now deteriorating over eastern Dominican Republic.
The Category 2 storm is located about 55 miles east-northeast of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, NHC says.
NHC adds that the forecast track, the core of Hurricane Maria will continue to move away from the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico this evening. The core will then pass offshore of the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday and…