Hurricane Maria strengthens to category 5 again as path heads for Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria has become stronger again as it heads for Puerto Rico.

The storm has been upgraded to a category 5, after briefly losing intensity, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

The upgrade comes just hours before the storm is due to crash into Puerto Rico. It has already destroyed some areas in its path, including the small island of Dominica.

Maria had weakened slightly — and briefly — early Tuesday to a still major Category 4 storm after pounding the small Caribbean island nation. But the fluctuation in intensity proved to be short-lived as a hurricane hunter plane reported the hurricane had regained a fearsome Category 5 status within hours of passing over Dominica. 

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit earlier captured the fury of Maria as it made landfall. “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God,” Skerrit wrote at the start of a series of increasingly harrowing posts on Facebook.

A few minutes later, he messaged he could hear the sound of galvanized steel roofs tearing off houses on the small rugged island. 

He then wrote that he thought his home had been damaged. And three words: “Rough! Rough! Rough!” 

A half hour later, he said: “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.” Seven minutes later he posted that he had been rescued. 

Officials in Guadeloupe said the French island near Dominica probably would experience heavy flooding and warned that many communities could be submerged. In nearby Martinique, authorities ordered people to remain indoors and said they should be prepared for power cuts and disruption in the water supply.

Authorities in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival there on Wednesday. 

“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.” 

Maria had maximum sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) late Monday as it slammed into Dominica, its eye passing over the island before conditions began easing. Early Tuesday, a hurricane hunter plane found top winds had slightly weakened though Maria remained a still extremely dangerous Category 4 major storm. 

The .S National Hurricane Center said Maria’s top sustained winds returned to 160 mph…

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