Hurricane Maria upgraded to Category 5 storm with wind speeds near 160 mph

Hurricane Maria became a Category 5 storm on Monday evening as it barreled toward Dominica in the Caribbean’s Leeward Islands and took aim for the US territory of Puerto Rico.

“The eye and the intense inner core is expected to pass near Dominica during the next few hours,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. advisory. “Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island.”

Maria packed sustained winds of 160 mph by 8 p.m. EST, bringing the chance of life-threatening storm surge, the advisory said.

Watch the player above to hear how the Caribbean is still reeling from Irma, Jose

Forecasters predict mudslides caused by heavy rains and “life-threatening flash floods across the Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands.”

As of 5 p.m. ET, Maria was centered about 35 miles east-southeast of Dominica and 55 miles northeast of Martinque, the National Hurricane Center said. The mammoth storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph.

And for the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from a Category 4 hurricane. Puerto Rico’s governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

“It’s time to wrap up your preparations now, Puerto Rico,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

Bracing for impact

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.”

In Antigua, another island battered by Irma, yacht skipper Kevin Joseph took extra precautions ahead of Maria.

“Our company, we have lost in excess of a hundred boats so far by Hurricane Irma, and for that reason we’re not taking any chances,” Joseph said.

“We’re gonna take the remainder of the fleet that’s here in Antigua, and we’re gonna take them south to the island of Martinique where they’re safe for shelter so that we can ride out the impending storm.”

Scrambling in Puerto…

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