Hurricane Maria regains strength after battering Dominica

Government urges citizens, residents to take precautions in light of approaching tropical storm

"Maria has strengthened to a hurricane and could be near major hurricane intensity which it affects portions of the Leeward Islands over the next few days, bringing unsafe wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards", the hurricane center said.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Hurricane Maria grew into an extremely unsafe Category 5 storm Monday as it barreled toward a potentially devastating collision with islands in the eastern Caribbean, and forecasters warned it was likely to become even stronger.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said starting midday Tuesday, conditions will begin to deteriorate and the island could get between 12 and 18 inches of rain.

The wicked 2017 hurricane season began delivering more punishing blows Tuesday as Hurricane Maria racked across the Caribbean with "potentially catastrophic" winds of 160 miles per hour.

As residents hunkered down in their homes the Category Five hurricane made landfall with top winds swirling at 257 kilometres (160 miles) per hour, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said. The storm is moving west-northwest at 15 miles per hour.

Beth Tamplin Jones, 45, rode out Hurricane Irma earlier this month in the pantry of a friend's house on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.

With maximum sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour), the storm slammed into the island as a Category 5 hurricane, the NHC said.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat and Martinique. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within the watch area. A tropical storm warning is in effect for areas from Watch Hill to Hull, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. And this coming just about two weeks after Irma skirted off the northeast of Puerto Rico. It wasn't expected to make landfall but tropical storm watches were posted along the coast from DE to Massachusetts' Cape Cod. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla.

Irma, also a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 yesterday. Puerto Rico could take a direct hit after being spared the full brunt of Irma.

Residents of some islands fled in advance of the storm. Almost 200 people are still in shelters due to Hurricane Irma.

In rain-lashed St Lucia, which also faced a tropical storm warning, flooding, mudslides and power outages were reported in parts of the island.

The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by. One military team has been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.

"We're watching its trajectory very closely, and we're preparing for the worst-case scenario", said local official Anne Laubies.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose has weakened slightly as it churns north, but is sill threatening "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the US East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.

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