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Major Hurricane Maria will continue to rip a path of destruction over the islands of the northeastern Caribbean Sea through Wednesday.
Maria will threaten lives and cause devastation in areas hit and missed by Irma's worst less than two weeks earlier.
According to Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder, president and chairman of AccuWeather, "There is no comparison between what Puerto Rico got before with Irma and what it will get this time with Maria. This is a disaster in the making. All parties in Puerto Rico and the nearby islands need to know how serious this threat is. The damage done by wind gusts from the last storm (Irma) of 50 to 60 mph will pale in comparison to winds that may reach 140 from Hurricane Maria."
"It is possible that parts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands may become uninhabitable for weeks or longer due to the destruction that Maria will cause," Myers said.
During Tuesday night, the eye wall of Maria brushed St. Croix, when the hurricane was a Category 5.
"St. Croix and Vieques have taken a hard hit and will end up with much more damage, and perhaps catastrophic damage when compared to Irma," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
During early Wednesday morning, Maria made landfall as a Category 4 in southeastern Puerto Rico. The hurricane was jogging more to the west, following its steady northwestward path from Tuesday. A northwest track will resume on Wednesday.
As Maria approached Puerto Rico, the structure of the storm began to change. The hurricane has grown in diameter.
All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions as the storm rolls northwestward across the island on Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds extend eastward throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands with hurricane-force gusts in the British Virgin Islands.
"Homes, businesses and other structures will be significantly damaged or destroyed," Myers said.
In addition to winds from a major hurricane, Puerto Rico is bracing for widespread, life-threatening flash flooding, record river flooding and dangerous mudslides due to the island's steep terrain and the likelihood of more than a foot (350 mm) of rain.
"Total rainfall of 6-12 inches (150-300 mm) will be common on the islands of the northeastern Caribbean with local amounts topping 20 inches (600 mm)," Sosnowski said.
“With Irma stripping much of the vegetation in the northern Leeward and Virgin Islands, there is a much greater risk of flash flooding and mudslides even if the eye wall of Maria passes by to the southwest,” Sosnowski said.
Even a brush with the storm's outer spiral bands could cause more damage as debris will get tossed around, and any trees weakened by previous storms may get snapped.
Coastal inundation from storm surge will reach 6-10 feet (1-3 meters) on some of the islands.
Small craft should remain in port and cruise and cargo ships should avoid the area with seas topping 25 feet (8 meters) in the vicinity through at least Thursday.
Heavy rain and powerful gusts will continue in Puerto Rico into Thursday. Runoff from heavy rain will keep rivers out of their banks and saturated soil will keep the hillsides unstable and at risk for ongoing mudslides.
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Cleanup and power restoration efforts will halt and crews will have to start from scratch in the wake of the storm.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti will feel the effects of Maria ramp up on Wednesday and continue into Thursday.
The island of Hispaniola will experience tropical storm conditions with torrential rain, dangerous surf and the potential for damaging wind gusts. Given the current forecast track, the worst conditions on Hispaniola will be in the Dominican Republic. The worst conditions in the Dominican Republic will be in the northeastern part of the nation.
"Interaction with Puerto Rico could slightly alter the track of the Maria," according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
"If Maria tracks farther southwest than expected, then conditions may be more severe not only in the Dominican Republic but also Haiti."
Those that have been left homeless and do not have a means of leaving the islands will be at the mercy of the rain and wind. Debris can become flying projectiles during the storm, threatening to inflict bodily harm on anyone who is outdoors.
"After Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas will face major impact from Maria," Sosnowski said.
Residents in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos should rush preparations to completion.
Seas and surf will remain dangerous on the northern shores of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola through Friday. Additional heavy, gusty squalls are also likely on these islands to end the week.
“AccuWeather estimates that Maria could reduce the GDP in Puerto Rico [$101.3 billion] by 10 percent by causing $10 billion in damage and have similar devastating impacts on other islands,” Myers said.
Maria is predicted to cause major economic impacts in Puerto Rico:
While it is too early to say with certainty whether Maria will have a direct impact on the mainland United States, all interests along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Canada should monitor the hurricane’s progress during the coming week.
The tropical Atlantic is likely to remain active through much of October and into nearly the end of autumn.
On Monday evening, Maria strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane with 160-mph (257-km/h) winds on its way toward the northeastern Caribbean Sea, making it the second Category 5 storm of the season.
The last time there were two or more Category 5 hurricanes in the same season was in 2007 when Dean and Felix occurred. Prior to this year, 2007 was also the last time two hurricanes made landfall as a Category 5.
The eye wall from Maria passed directly over Dominica Monday night. However, mostly tropical-storm-force winds were felt on the adjacent islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Montserrat from this small but intense hurricane.
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