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Hurricane Maria Threatens Caribbean Islands Clobbered by Irma

Men board up buildings ahead of Hurricane Maria in Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017.

Hurricane Maria has intensified into a potentially deadly Category 5 storm Monday as it surged toward several of the Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma.

The storm's eye is expected to pass over Martinique and Dominica late Monday or early Tuesday and head toward a possible direct strike on Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and authorized Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate all relief efforts.

The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, urged island residents in a social media advisory to brace for the storm's arrival, saying, "It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend or head to a state shelter."

The U.S. territory imposed rationing of basic supplies including water, milk, baby formula, canned food, batteries and flashlights.

"Unfortunately it is impacting many of the islands which were severely damaged by Irma just a week to 10 days ago," Dennis Feltgen, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told VOA. "It's not an identical path, but it is still in the same general area, so this is not helping the situation down there at all."

Maria would be the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, since a Category 4 storm swept the U.S. island territory in 1932, Feltgen said. The last major hurricane to strike Puerto Rico directly was Georges, which made landfall there as a Category 3 storm.

Antigua and Barbuda are expected to experience tropical storm force conditions from Maria after taking a direct hit from the powerful Irma that destroyed nearly all the buildings on Barbuda and forced the government to evacuate people from the island.

Irma killed at least 60 people in the Caribbean and at least nine more when it struck the U.S. state of Florida.

Another storm, Tropical Depression Lee, has developed east of Hurricane Maria, but at this time forecasters do not expect Lee to approach the Caribbean.

"The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was forecast to be above average and that is certainly the case right now," Feltgen said. "The bad news is that we're only just past the halfway point of the season. We still have plenty more weeks to go. The peak of the season runs from mid-August through late October and there are still many more storms on the horizon."

Hurricane Jose is also bringing a threat of flooding rains to isolated areas along the northern part of U.S. East Coast this week. The center of the storm is well out to sea, but tropical storm force winds could reach the coast, with strong surf affecting those areas as well as Bermuda and the Bahamas.

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