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Maria Dips Below Major Hurricane Status after Hitting Puerto Rico

September 20, 2017 04:48 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, dropping to a Category 2 storm after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday.

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An update from the Miami-based center says a hurricane hunter plane clocked the top sustained winds of the storm at near 110 mph (175 kph) with higher gusts about 5 p.m. Wednesday. Maria's fierce core was centered about 25 miles (45 kilometers) north-northwest of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, and moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).

Forecasters say the dangerous storm system will continue moving away from the northwest coast of Puerto Rico in coming hours. It's then expected to pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominical Republic this evening and early Thursday.

Felix Delgado, mayor of the city of Catano on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, told WAPA Television that 80 percent of the homes in a hard-hit neighborhood known as Juana Matos are "destroyed."

There were no immediate details from Delgado. That report came after forecasters said Hurricane Maria was approaching the northern coast with destructive winds after raking over the island.

Maria, which left at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, blew ashore in the morning in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 155 mph (250 kph). Maria slowly crossed the island, knocking down communication towers, snapping trees and unloading heavy rains. Widespread flooding was reported across the island, with dozens of cars half-submerged in some neighborhoods and many streets turned into rivers.

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as the third strongest storm to make landfall in the United States based on a key measurement meteorologists use: air pressure.

The lower the central pressure a storm has, the stronger it is and Maria's pressure was 917 millibars. That's lower than Irma's U.S. landfall of 929 millibars in the Florida Keys earlier this year, as well 2005's Hurricane Katrina landfall of 920, which had been in third place.

Only two hurricanes hit the United States, U.S. islands or Hawaii with a stronger pressure: the 1935 Labor Day storm that hit the Florida Keys and 1969's Camille that devastated the Gulf Coast.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Jose is still kicking up dangerous surf and currents along much of the U.S. Eastern seaboard. The storm's center was located at 5 p.m. Wednesday about 145 miles (235 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts and had top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). It's moving northeast at 8 mph (13 kph).


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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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