Hurricane Maria strengthens into major Category 5

Hurricane Maria (WISH Photo)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Hurricane Maria intensified into a major hurricane on Monday.

The storm intensified to a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds as of the 8 p.m. update by the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane Hunter aircraft found Maria had strengthened just before 8 p.m. The eye and the intense inner core of the storm is nearing Dominica.

As of 8 p.m. Monday, Hurricane Maria is moving west-northwest at 9 mph. Maria is about 40 miles east-southeast of Martinique and about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica.

A Hurricane Warning has been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands.

A Hurricane Warning has also been issued for Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques.

The storm is on a path that would take it near many of the islands wrecked by Hurricane Irma and on toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The hurricane center said hurricane conditions should begin to affect parts of the Leeward Islands by Monday night, with storm surge raising water levels by 4 to 6 feet near the storm’s center. The storm was predicted to bring 6 to 12 inches of rain across the islands, with more in isolated areas.

Maria could make a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which was spared the full brunt of Irma although much of the island had its power knocked out. Gov. Ricardo Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people – or even 125,000 in an emergency. He said schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.

Officials in the Dominican Republic urged people to leave areas prone to flooding and said fishermen should remain in port.

Here are the other watches and warnings in effect for Hurricane Maria:

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for-

  • Guadeloupe
  • Dominica
  • St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat
  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Puerto Rico, Culbera and Vieques

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for-

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Saba and St. Eustatius
  • St. Maarten
  • Anguilla
  • St. Lucia
  • Martinique

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for-

  • Saba and St. Eustatius
  • St. Maarten
  • St. Martin and St. Barthelemy
  • Anguilla
  • Isla Saona to Puerto Plata

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for-

  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • West of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border