Maria regains strength as it pulls away from Puerto Rico, approaches Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos – Washington Post

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Hurricane Maria made landfall early Sept. 20 in the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm. It’s one the strongest hurricanes to ever hit Puerto Rico. (The Washington Post)

(This article, originally published at 12:50 p.m. Wednesday, was updated at 5:00 a.m. Thursday with the latest information from the National Hurricane Center.)

Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico Wednesday unleashing destructive winds, which knocked out power to the entire island, and “catastrophic” flooding.

The storm, which continued to batter the island with torrential rain well into Wednesday night, regained some strength and is next set to scrape across the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 hurricane Thursday before arriving in the Turks and Caicos and Southeast Bahamas by Friday.

This weekend, it is expected to turn north parallel to the East Coast. But just how close it tracks to the coast next week, while enormously consequential, is not yet clear.

(National Hurricane Center)

The latest: Maria’s destructive path

Maria continued moving away from Puerto Rico Thursday morning, centered 70 miles north of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, at 5 a.m. The storm was lashing the northeastern part of the Dominican Republic with wind and rain.

In the hours leading up to and following landfall in Puerto Rico, the storm’s peak winds had decreased substantially, from 175 to 110 mph. After leaving Puerto Rico, the hurricane regained strength as a Category 3 storm and the Hurricane Center predicted it could hold that intensity for at least 48 hours.

Even though the winds had diminished somewhat Wednesday evening, torrential inland rain over Puerto Rico had emerged as the most severe danger. The Hurricane Center described ongoing flash flooding as “catastrophic”. Rivers on the island had rapidly risen, some reaching record levels in a matter of hours.

At 5 a.m., 10 of 27 river gauges on Puerto Rico were reporting “major flooding” and flash flood warnings covered all but the southwest portion of the island.

The National Weather Service in San Juan reported incredible rainfall rates up to 5 to 7 inches per hour Wednesday morning.

El río d nuestro barrio Borinquén d Guayama parece un animal

Posted by Cruz Rodriguez Keila on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Estimated rainfall totals in Puerto Rico exceeded 20 inches in most areas. Some gauges recorded amounts to around 30 inches, including 33.58 inches in La Plaza, and 28.70 inches in Cidra.

Estimated rainfall in Puerto Rico through 10 p.m. Wednesday. (National Weather Service)

As the storm made landfall early Wednesday morning along the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, a National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, reported a rise in water 5.3 feet above the normal high tide.

Wind reports became scarce by 8 a.m. as wind sensors and/or their transmission signals failed, but numerous locations clocked gusts over 110 mph, including San Juan. And structural damage was reportedly widespread.

Effects in St. Croix and U.S. Virgin Islands

Early Wednesday morning, sustained winds reached 106 mph and gusts were reported up to 137 mph in St. Croix. Between 10 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, St. Croix’s airport on the southwest part of the island reported gusts up to 92 mph before the wind sensor stopped reporting.

While St. Croix was hit hard and damage was extensive, the storm’s inner eyewall containing its most violent winds just missed to the south — sparing the island the worst of its fury.

The storm passed even farther to the south of St. Thomas, but social media photos showed significant flooding on the island:

The forecast

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