SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The Latest on Hurricane Maria (all times local):
The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism says people who want to visit the Caribbean territory should postpone their trip while authorities assess the effects of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix and recover from the damage to St. Thomas and St. John from Hurricane Irma.
The department says Hurricane Maria brought heavy rainfall and flooding to St. Croix when it passed to the south of the island and communications throughout the islands are limited.
There were no immediate reports Wednesday of any casualties from the storm on St. Croix.
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.
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.
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).
The head of the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency says the airport and seaports of Dominica remain closed after Hurricane Maria and officials are trying to work out the best ways to get relief supplies to the battered island.
Director General Ronald Jackson says in a radio interview that authorities are using helicopters to carry emergency food, water and shelter materials to Dominica. He added in the interview with RJR News of Jamaica that once the airport opens it will allow them to greatly expand the effort on an island where officials say the storm caused at least 7 deaths.
He also said Wednesday that relief agencies may have to drop people into remote communities with satellite phones because many areas are both inaccessible and there is little to no communication on the island.
An official at the U.S. Virgin Islands Emergency Operations Center says there are no immediate reports of deaths or injuries on St. Croix from Hurricane Maria but a full assessment hasn't been completed. Spokeswoman Nykole Tyson says the storm tore many roofs off of buildings and downed trees across the island.
Winds were still strong Wednesday more than five hours after the eye passed close to the island, making it too dangerous for people to venture out and conduct a thorough check.
Some people were trapped in their bathrooms or fled to their cars after losing the roof on their home. Tyson says the Department of Public Health building where she spent the night shook during the storm, which she called "frightening."
It comes after St. Thomas and St. John are still reeling from being hit by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6.
About 4,000 tourists in the Bavara-Punta Cana area on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic have been moved to hotels in Santo Domingo because of Hurricane Maria.
Hotel Association President Joel Santos said the tourists were evacuated from the beach resort because of the threat posed by the powerful storm.
Maria was already triggering thunderstorms Wednesday and was expected to pass about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the area.
Maria has weakened slightly to a Category 3 major hurricane after crashing across Puerto Rico and its center is now moving offshore of the island's northwest coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm is slowly starting to move away from Puerto Rico with maximum sustained winds near 115 mph (185 kph). Little change in strength is forecast over the next 48 hours.
The Miami-based center says Maria was centered at 2 p.m. Wednesday about 15 miles (20 kilometers) west of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. It's moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). It's expected to pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic late Wednesday and Thursday.
In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Jose's outer rainbands are approaching southern New England's coast. The hurricane center says dangerous surf and rip currents will affect much of the U.S. East Coast for days. Jose, a former hurricane, was about 140 miles (230 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts with top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph).
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 is now approaching the northern coast of Puerto Rico as destructive winds and flooding are continuing.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says the eye of the Category 4 major hurricane is now located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of San Juan, the capital. Maximum sustained winds are 140 mph (220 kph) and the storm is moving to the northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
The Miami-based hurricane center says little change in strength is expected in the coming 48 hours as Maria remains a dangerous major hurricane. It says tropical storm conditions are expected to begin in the Dominican Republica this afternoon with hurricane conditions starting there later Wednesday night. Forecasters say the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas will see worsening conditions Thursday morning with the expected arrival of hurricane winds Thursday evening.
An adviser to Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says there have been seven confirmed deaths in the Caribbean country from Hurricane Maria.
Hartley Henry didn't give details about how the deaths occurred. They raise the overall death toll to nine from the storm including two on the French island of Guadeloupe.
Henry says the country is "in a daze" with no electricity or power and little to no communications.
He said in a statement Wednesday that there has been a "tremendous loss of housing and public buildings" in the mountainous island but the full extent of the damage isn't known. The storm struck the country Monday and Tuesday and is now over Puerto Rico.
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.
Metal roofs were already flying and windows were breaking as Maria approached Puerto Rico before dawn, with nearly 900,000 people without power and one tree falling on an ambulance.
Those who sought shelter at a coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building's second and third floors, reported radio station WKAQ 580 AM. The storm was moving across Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning at 10 mph (17 kph), with a gust of 113 mph (182 kph) reported in the capital of San Juan, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Puerto Rico had long been spared from a direct hit by hurricanes that tend to veer north or south of the island. The last Category 4 hurricane landfall in Puerto Rico occurred in 1932, and the strongest storm to ever hit the island was San Felipe in 1928 with winds of 160 mph (257 kph).
Hurricane Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico.
The National Hurricane Center says the Category 4 Hurricane made landfall early Wednesday near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. It had a sustained wind of 155 mph (250 kph).
It was located about 30 miles (50 kph) south-southeast of San Juan.
Hurricane Maria has weakened to a Category 4 storm as it closes in on Puerto Rico but remains a dangerous hurricane that threatens to decimate the power company's crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.
Maria's maximum sustained winds Wednesday morning are near 155 mph (250 kph) and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm should keep that intensity until it makes landfall.
As of 5 a.m. EDT, Maria is centered about 50 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving northwest near 10 mph (17 kph).
The prefect of the French island of Guadeloupe has raised the death toll stemming from Hurricane Maria from one to two people.
Eric Maire said Tuesday night that in addition to one person who "did not comply with the confinement instructions" and was killed by a falling tree, another person died after they "fell in the sea."
The identity of either of the fatalities is unknown.
The Guadeloupe prefecture has also said two people are reported missing after a shipwreck near the French island of Desirade.
France's interior minister Gerard Collomb said there were three people wounded in Martinique, including one seriously.
The extent of the damage from Tuesday's hurricane is yet to be assessed on those French territories.
Puerto Rico faces what officials say could be the strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. territory as they warned it would decimate the power company's crumbling infrastructure and force the government to rebuild dozens of communities.
Maria barreled toward the island with 175 mph winds and forecasters said it was expected to make landfall Wednesday midmorning along Puerto Rico's southeast coast as a Category 5 storm, punishing the island with life-threatening winds for 12 to 24 hours.
The number of power outages spiked as Maria approached, with the storm centered early Wednesday about 70 miles (115 kilometers) southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).
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